Last month, 144,000 people were arrested at our southern border. Many of these people were not trying to escape the Border Patrol but were turning themselves in. Why?
Because our asylum process is laughably easy to take advantage of.
One must be deliberately ignoring reality to pretend that our asylum process is not being abused. As it stands now, the incentives are aligned to permit illegal immigrants to cross the border with a child, knowing full well that they will be caught and released into society without the chance of deportation. We cannot pretend that this a system based on rule of law and respect for our sovereignty.
Even worse, we cannot pretend that this is a system that rewards law-abiding legal immigration over illegal immigration. It isn’t fair to our citizens, and it isn’t fair to immigrants around the world who are trying to come to our country legally.
The situation we’re seeing on the border is unsustainable, to say the least. There are holding facilities packed with about seven times the number of migrants they were designed for.
Border detentions are up 32 percent compared to April, and Customs and Border Protection has had to divert up to 50 percent of its agents from their normal duties in order to process and care for this enormous number of migrants.
Border agents are tending to the health needs of migrants instead of protecting the border from drug traffickers and human smugglers. They’ve been given an impossible job, while Congress withholds the resources they need to do it.
The root cause of the record-breaking surge in migrants is the widespread abuse of our asylum system.
The crisis extends well beyond the border, as well. Americans hospitals and schools are overwhelmed. In Houston, which I represent, employees at one hospital designated for low-income Americans without insurance told me they spend 25 percent of their budget on illegal immigrants.
The root cause of the record-breaking surge in migrants is the widespread abuse of our asylum system. Because of a massive backlog of asylum cases and an inability to quickly adjudicate and enforce them, more migrants are making the journey to our border. They bring children with them to take advantage of our loopholes, knowing we must release family units within 20 days.
This encourages many adults to recycle the same children over and over again – effectively incentivizing human trafficking. Upon arrival, they’re held for a matter of days or weeks, then released into the country.
And when their court dates arrive? The Department of Homeland Security's program found that 90 percent of asylum seekers don’t even show up for their hearings.
Most Americans want to see a solution to this, but political opportunism prevents reasonable solutions. As Republicans propose solutions — such as the asylum reform bill from Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. — we are accused of being unsympathetic and anti-immigrant.
But this accusation relies on the false equivalency between legal and illegal immigration. It is a rhetorical tactic that liberals use to claim moral superiority against Republicans, distract from the heart of the issue, scare immigrant communities and ensure that nothing gets done.
But we can’t let dishonest virtue-signaling win the day. Republicans must continue to propose solutions and welcome Democrats to work with us. In addition to Graham’s bill, Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, proposed a bill in the House that would address the asylum loopholes.
Next week the Senate is expected to vote on legislation to accommodate President Trump’s request for $4.5 billion in humanitarian funding. The money would provide more space and resources for facilities on the border, improving conditions for the people held there.
Additionally, the president has worked with Mexico to curb illegal immigration. The Mexican government has agreed to deploy 6,000 National Guard troops to its southern border. In addition, Mexico has implemented the "Migrant Protection Protocols" to discourage the abuse of our immigration laws by having asylum seekers wait for their hearings in Mexico.
Under the agreement, Mexico gives migrants permission to live and work there until their hearings, at which point they will be allowed to enter the U.S. to attend court.
But House Democrats remain silent on the issue, leaving Americans with only one impression: that they don’t actually want the asylum crisis to be solved; that they don’t want illegal immigration to end; that they don’t want to improve the conditions migrants are held in. From their perspective, asylum abuse is a feature of the system, not a problem.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We can prove to the American people that fixing the crisis at our border is more important than scoring political points. We can prove that we are in the business of governing responsibly, upholding our rule of law, and giving priority to those immigrants willing to apply legally versus those who leverage our system’s loopholes.
The solutions are right in front of us. Congress needs to act on them.