Higgins Opening Statement at MPP Hearing

WASHINGTON –Subcommittee on Border Security, Facilitation, and Operations Ranking Member Clay Higgins (R-La.), today delivered the following opening statement at a subcommittee hearing entitled, “Examining the Human Rights and Legal Implications of DHS’ ‘Remain in Mexico’ Policy.”

Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you to our witnesses for being here today.

While I look forward to hearing your testimony, I also want to voice that I am disappointed that no DHS officials responsible for negotiating and implementing the Migrant Protection Protocols agreement with the Government of Mexico were invited to testify by the majority.

I am also concerned by the partisan pre-conceptions surrounding the hearing title.

This past year we saw what some Democrats on this Committee called a “Fake Emergency” explode as over 977,000 people attempted to illegally enter the United States through our southwest border. 

That’s more than FY17 and FY18 combined, and larger than the population of the entire state of Delaware. 

Historically, most illegal immigrants have been single adults from Mexico looking for temporary work.  During FY2000, Border Patrol was able to repatriate the majority of those detained within hours. 

Today, most illegal immigrants are family units and unaccompanied minors arriving from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.  In FY19, CBP encountered 473,682 families, nearly a 3,200 percent increase from FY13. 

This change is directly tied to criminal organizations exploiting loopholes in our immigration laws as propaganda to convince people to bring children to the border. 

Migrants are giving up their life savings, mortgaging their homes and farms, and handing over their children to smugglers, because they are falsely being told that children are “visas” to get into this country.  Even the Guatemalan Ministry of Foreign Affairs has publicly confirmed this.

Smugglers don’t care about the well-being of migrants, just about turning a profit.  In FY19, CBP averaged 71 hospital visits per day for migrants who arrived at our border in deteriorating health.  The Border Patrol conducted over 4,900 rescues of migrants who smugglers left to die.

Former Acting DHS Secretary McAleenan testified in July that more than 5,500 fraudulent family cases have been uncovered where the adult is not the parent of the child. 1,000 of those have already resulted in prosecutions.

Worse, cartels are sending children back on commercial airlines to their home country to then return at the border with different adults.  Agents call this practice “recycling children”.  ICE identified 600 children who have gone through this. One child told investigators he was forced to make the trip eight times.

There’s a common misconception that most people illegally crossing our border are seeking asylum.  However, less than 20 percent of migrants in CBP custody actively claim they have a “credible fear” of return to their home country while in custody.  In FY18 that number was 18 percent.

And for those saying everyone is turning themselves in, that is not the case. According to CBP, last year more than 150,000 migrants who illegally entered this country got away from authorities, evading capture and making their way into the interior.

The Trump Administration has been forced to act alone and has taken several important actions to mitigate the crisis as gridlock over immigration reform continues in Congress.

DHS implemented the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program to cut down on the overcrowding of migrants in DHS custody and the number of migrants being released into U.S. communities due to immigration court backlog.  At one point this year, CBP had almost 20,000 people in custody.  Now they are averaging less than 3,500. 

DHS has invested in temporary courtrooms near southwest border ports of entry to help expedite immigration hearings for MPP individuals.

MPP ends the economic incentive of making a meritless asylum claim, considering only 20% of asylum claims get favorable final judgement but every asylum applicant released in the interior is provided with work authorization.  Department of Justice statistics point to more than 89,000 orders of removal in absentia in FY19 for those who were not detained.  MPP mitigates the risk that those ordered removed will disappear into the interior.

This month, DHS, the State Department, and the International Organization for Migration visited several shelters operated by faith-based organizations and the Government of Mexico that house MPP individuals.  Those shelters were found to have a persistent law enforcement presence, adequate medical care, and access to food and water. 

Today’s hearing is a missed opportunity to bring in the Department to ask about that visit and discuss the implementation of the MPP program in greater detail. We’ve forgone a fact-finding mission for nothing short of a show trial. 

Nevertheless, I want to again thank our witnesses for appearing before us today and I look forward to your testimony. I yield back.

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