Rep. Tom Rice: I saw the crisis at the border with my own eyes -- Congress can fix it

Earlier this month, I joined Vice President Pence and a group of Senate Republicans to see firsthand the humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border.

We toured two facilities in McAllen Texas, an area of the Rio Grande that is at the center of this crisis. If the reports and rhetoric from my colleagues across the aisle were true, the facilities we toured would have been dirty and unlivable. That was not the case. Everyone at both of these facilities had access to food, water, hygiene items, and medical care.

The first facility housed family units, and everyone we spoke to said they were being treated well. The second facility we visited housed single men who were apprehended crossing into our country illegally, many of whom had criminal records or had been deported previously.

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Was it a Holiday Inn with extra comfort and amenities? Absolutely not. As expected, the facility was overcrowded, but the conditions were humane, and every detainee had access to basic necessities. Let’s not forget that everyone in these detention centers chose to violate our laws, rather than seeking to enter our country legally.

Our border patrol officers are caring for those in their custody with compassion. However, our system was never meant to handle this massive influx of migrants coming across the border – especially families. Over half of the border patrol agents in the Rio Grande area are now staffing detention centers, instead of their usual posts along the border. While these agents are making 32 hospital trips a day, criminals and drug smugglers are using these vulnerabilities to their advantage.

Cartels, human traffickers, and smugglers have perfected their business of exploiting our laws, enticing families and children to make the dangerous trek to our border while they make a hefty profit. For $8,000 these criminal organizations will transport a single adult across the border and assist them in avoiding detainment. The fee is reduced to $5,000 for family units, because having a minor in your group is essentially a “get out of jail free” card. Our immigration loopholes are a magnet for illegal aliens, a profitable business for criminals, and a huge danger to innocent children, many of whom are being rented out to pose in family units.

One of the most glaring loopholes in our immigration system is the Flores settlement agreement, which mandates that any minor apprehended at the border cannot be detained for more than 20 days. This has incentivized adults to cross the border with a child in the hope of staying indefinitely in the United States.

At the McAllen facility, officials reported that they were forced to release family units into the country after just three days because they did not have room to house the constant flow of people being processed at the facility. From December 2018 to May 2019 alone, over 160,000 family unit members had been released into our country. Like all aliens who are released to our country’s interior, they were sent with instructions to appear for a court date, and we have no mechanism to hold them accountable if they don’t show up.

Another major loophole drawing illegal aliens to our border is the use of fraudulent asylum claims to gain entry into our country. The number of people claiming “credible fear” to gain entry into our country is skyrocketing – with over 90,000 claimants in 2018. However, less than 10 percent of these claims were determined to be legitimate. With so few people qualifying for asylum, we need to strengthen the “credible fear standard” to deter those with meritless claims and require that people apply for asylum from their home country. If America is to remain a safe haven for those escaping violence or persecution, we must put an end to the rampant abuses of our asylum laws that are destroying the system for those it was designed to protect.

Current laws require any unaccompanied minor from Central America to be treated as a victim of human trafficking, even if that is not their accurate status. Not only does this take away federal resources from actual human trafficking victims, but it has also led to 98 percent of unaccompanied minors from Central America remaining in the United States. This can be remedied by updating the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act so that minors that should be returned to their home countries will be sent home safely.

As long as these loopholes in our system exist, criminal agencies will exploit them for profit while our resources are stretched too thin to maintain facilities and secure the border. How can we expect border patrol agents to do their job unless Congress does ours?

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Democrats decry the conditions at our facilities yet refuse to allocate funding for more detention beds and say we should abolish immigration enforcement. They proudly advocate for open borders and would happily let every detained alien go free, regardless of their criminal record.

Congress has a responsibility to those who followed our laws and came to America legally, those who have credible asylum claims and need our protection, and every American citizen to close these loopholes and secure our border once and for all.