Dueling trips to the border by Republican and Democratic lawmakers came amid a partisan divide on how the government is responding to the dramatic spike of undocumented migrants flowing into the U.S. since President Biden’s inauguration.
SAN ANTONIO (CN) — As the flood of young, unaccompanied migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border continues to rise and calls for a comprehensive immigration reform package grow louder, lawmakers including a delegation of 19 Republican senators descended on Texas, where they insisted that the situation at the southern border was an avoidable crisis and demanded that the Biden administration take action.
Led by Texans Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, the group of Senate Republicans were first given a late night look of the border in Mission, Texas, after arriving Thursday night. On Friday, the senators, which included Chuck Grassley, Tom Cotton and Susan Collins, toured the overcrowded Donna Processing Center before donning life jackets and boarding patrol gunboats for a ride-along with U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents on the Rio Grande.
“That’s Mexico and you can see there are three smugglers right there standing on the Mexican side looking at us,” Cruz said in one of several videos posted to Twitter detailing what he and the 18 other senators were witnessing on their first night. “They have been shining their flashlights at us, they are yelling at us.”
Meanwhile, Congressman Joaquin Castro headed a group of six House Democrats to a Carrizo Springs facility for unaccompanied children to search for recommendations to pass along to the Biden administration on ways to speed up the asylum process.
“We came away today with the feeling that we have something to share with the administration,” Castro said after seeing for himself the conditions of the Carrizo Springs Office of Refugee Resettlement facility that can house nearly 1,000 unaccompanied children.
The dueling trips to the Texas border came amid a partisan divide on how the government is responding to the dramatic spike of undocumented migrants continuing to flow through the southern border since President Joe Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration.
Border patrol agents encountered more than 100,000 migrants attempting to enter the Southwest border in February, a 28% increase over the previous month. Officials told reporters on Friday morning that about 300 agents have been transferred from northern and coastal posts to South Texas to help deal with the estimated 5,000 migrants encountered by CBP agents every day.
Of those apprehended by agents, approximately 2,300 are family units and some 500 are unaccompanied children, according to the agency.
Tom K. Wong, an associate professor and founding director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Center at UC San Diego, said monthly increases at this time of year are to be expected, but added that there is not enough data to say if Biden administration policies are pushing the undeniable increase in unaccompanied minors or not.
“We will see an increase in March and again in April and again in May,” Wong said during a conference call with reporters Friday. “Those increases don’t necessarily invoke crisis, however, because for example in 2019 the January to May increase was 200% and so we are nowhere near that.”
Wong said research suggests that changes in administrations, whether from Republican to Democratic or vice-versa, are exploited by human smugglers, whose billion-dollar industry thrives on change.
“The timing may be around the Biden administration taking office, but it may be less to do with a particular policy or a set of policies because we know that human smugglers have an incentive to exploit changes in administrations to sell the promise of being able to make it into the country,” he said.
After their brief tour with border patrol agents in gunboats, the group of GOP senators held a press conference along the Rio Grande riverbanks to assail Biden administration policies and describe the poor conditions they saw in immigration facilities, including in one that Cruz said was designed for a capacity of 250 but held nearly 4,000 individuals.
“This shouldn’t have happened,” South Dakota Senator John Thune said.
“I think one of the lessons we learned is ‘if you don’t build it, they will come,’” he said referring to the Trump administration’s push for a border wall. “If they don’t finish the job and secure the border you are inviting people into this country.”
Each senator took their turn criticizing changes to the Remain in Mexico policy made by the Biden administration and called on the president to reverse course in his handling of what they repeatedly called a crisis. They were also angered by administration officials not allowing media inside immigration centers, and began sharing photos and video taken inside those facilities before the end of the trip.
But the press gaggle turned confrontational when a reporter asked Cruz about Republicans’ past efforts to block a comprehensive immigration reform bill.
“The premise of your question isn’t right,” Cruz said before Senator Lindsey Graham stepped up to offer his own testy response.
“Why don’t you do your job as a reporter and ask the professionals what the hell has happened in the last couple of months and they will tell you,” the South Carolina Republican said. “They told the Biden administration ‘if you do what you were planning, we’re going to lose control of the border.’ They were right. I want to know who they told, and I want those people to be held accountable.”
“I’m not going to give this up,” Graham added.