Higgins Opening Statement at Hearing on Families at the Border

WASHINGTON — Subcommittee on Border Security, Facilitation, and Operations Subcommittee Ranking Member Clay Higgins (R-La.) today delivered the following opening statement at a subcommittee entitled, “The Department of Homeland Security’s Family Separation Policy: Perspectives from the Border.”

My friends on the Left will spend much time today criticizing strict enforcement of our immigration laws. To be clear, that strict enforcement is no longer happening.

What we don’t hear about as much are the loopholes in our immigration laws that fuel criminal organization’s propaganda responsible for convincing hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people from Central America to make the treacherous journey to our southwest border. Smuggling can easily turn into sexual assault and trafficking, endangering the lives of women and children along the way. Because we have not invested enough resources in securing our southwest border, to transnational criminal organizations, the benefits clearly outweigh the consequences we can deliver to them for facilitating this travel.

They extort thousands of dollars in smuggling fees from migrants, while expanding their control of areas in Central America.  We don‚Äôt hear about the horrible conditions these families and children experience on their journey to our border, including the very real threat of separation, assault, sex trafficking, and labor trafficking that occurs at the hands of cartels, smugglers, and coyotes.

I am grateful that Mr. Ballard could join us today as a witness to speak in more detail about human trafficking cases that exist due to a lack of security along our southwest border.

I know he will provide case examples from his law enforcement experience in the CIA and working for the Homeland Security Investigations unit within DHS. While these may be troubling to hear, they are exactly what America needs to hear.

Our nation is a generous one. We accept over 1 million legal immigrants into our country every year and we are on track to shelter more persecuted individuals with asylum under this Administration than the last – in fact 5,638 people were granted asylum in 2018 compared to less than half that number in 2016.

Due to loopholes in our immigration laws, people attempting to illegally enter our country for solely economic reasons are coming too, creating an extreme backlog in our process and causing those who truthfully need this aid to be in limbo for years. These migrants are told that once they step foot on U.S. soil, they can stay. The unfortunate truth is that most asylum claims prove illegitimate and of further concern is the fact that 40 % of people requesting asylum in 2018, never filed an actual application. That’s 14,072 people who passed a credible fear screening then decided they did not actually need asylum to remain in the United States, likely disappearing into our interior.

Criminal organizations tell migrants that children can be used as de facto visas, making them vulnerable targets for smugglers and human traffickers who know that after 20 days, families and minors must be released into the interior. We have seen major spikes in unaccompanied minors and family units over the last 5 years, a shift that coincides with policies and court decisions made under the Obama Administration, specifically the extension of the Flores Settlement to families. We are now seeing the greatest number of families attempting to illegally enter our country in our nation’s history and those numbers are only expected to rise.

And, meaningfully, 84 percent of migrants are arriving between ports of entry and crossing illegally. Once these migrants are apprehended, the cost of not only holding, but processing, caring for, and monitoring them is an enormous sum, which is even more alarming when you realize that a large number of their immigration hearings end with deportation orders. Our border agencies have diverted millions from their operational budgets to address these surge concerns, decaying our readiness.

The reality is every single day women are sexually assaulted on the way to our southwest border, children do not receive adequate food, water, and shelter, and sometimes people are tricked into being labor or sex trafficked. All because our border doesn’t stop them from crossing illegally once they get here. Last year the Border Patrol rescued over 4,300 people who were left for dead by smugglers or who were victims of the rugged terrain that encompasses our southwest border. Agents unfortunately also find skeletal remains of others that did not make it across.

Transnational criminal organizations control corridors where many smuggling routes pass through Mexico, making reaching our southwest border a question of “how much?,” instead of‚”how?” Illegal immigration generates tens of millions of dollars for these criminal organizations every year.

By failing to secure our border and fix legal loopholes, we are enriching the criminal cartels, making them more powerful in Central America and Mexico, and enabling them to exploit new victims.

As a Congress that refuses to fix these loopholes and secure our border, we are complicit in this problem. I continue to support an “all-of-the-above” strategy to secure our borders including enhanced physical barriers, 21st-century technology, and additional manpower. Frontline defenders have repeatedly testified before this committee about how this multi-layered approach works. It’s time we start believing them.

I encourage my colleagues to work together to ensure that more resources are provided to the Department of Homeland Security to secure our borders in a safe and humane way.

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Contact: Nicole Hager

202-226-8417

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