Higgins Opening Statement in Border Security Hearing
Ranking Member Higgins’ Opening Statement (as prepared for delivery)
Thank you Madam Chair, and thank you to our witnesses for being here today.
Make no mistake, there is a crisis on our southwest border with no end in sight.
This Administration’s campaign rhetoric coupled with an over-zealous renunciation of the prior administration’s border policies which had proven effective, have invited this activity at our border.
Specifically, the suspension of wall system construction, the Remain in Mexico policy, and Asylum Cooperative Agreements, coupled with the enabling of ‘catch and release’ practices, restricting immigration enforcement and the refusal to equally apply Title 42 across the board, have exacerbated the crisis.
The Secretary of Homeland Security himself stated that we are on track to see the highest number of illegal crossings in over 20 years.
However, no one in the current Administration has stepped forward to claim a leadership role to deal with this crisis. The border coordinator is leaving after three months on the job, the Vice President has yet to visit the border, and Secretary Mayorkas continues to ignore legitimate information requests from this oversight body about the operational reality on the ground.
Last month, Customs and Border Protection encounters surpassed 172,000 at the southwest border. The Administration continues to claim that single adults and family units are being expelled under Title 42 public health emergency authority. However, DHS’s own statistics show that to be false. In March, only 60 percent were denied entry.
Border Patrol facilities and temporary processing centers – the same ones used during the Trump Administration –remain over capacity. My colleagues on the other side of the aisle who slammed conditions in 2019 are now referring to the same exact facilities under the Biden Administration as “more humane.” This is just another example of the incredible things that happen in the bizarre realm of D.C.
The American people see through this. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows a majority of Americans disapprove of the Administration’s handling of the situation at the southwest border.
Based off publicly available CBP data, only a small fraction of people crossing the border illegally are seeking asylum.
Less than 20 percent make a credible fear claim, which is the first step in the process for asylum at the land border. That doesn’t mean more didn’t seek it as a defense against removal later on, but let’s be clear not to suggest that everyone at the border is seeking asylum.
Because of the Biden Administration’s decision to use prosecutorial discretion in the Rio Grande Valley Sector, most people not able to be immediately expelled are released en masse, some without ever being entered in removal proceedings. Border Patrol Agents on the ground told us that the federal government has become the largest facilitator of human smuggling at the border. That should be a wakeup call for this Congress to put an end to the madness and work together towards a solution
Another persistent issue at our borders concerns the activities of transnational criminal organizations (TCOs), the cartels. Months-old babies and toddlers don’t just appear at the southwest border on their own. They are smuggled to our border by TCOs who don’t care about their safety or well-being, if they are hydrated and fed, or if the adult holding them is related to them. TCOs just care about cash. There have been reports of smugglers throwing toddlers into the Rio Grande River to distract Border Patrol and we have all seen the footage of smugglers dropping toddlers over the wall. The best practices of treating children at the border we will hear today doesn’t matter to them. Every child they smuggle or use to distract from their loads of drugs, makes them more emboldened. Criminal cartels are profiting greatly from this Administration’s policies.
The decision not to expel unaccompanied minors is causing some parents to make the decision to self-separate.
We have heard from CBP that they’ve encountered “many” adults claiming to be children at the border in hopes of not being expelled. I don’t have to explain the dangers of putting unrelated adults in facilities with children.
There are also at least three facilities that house unaccompanied minors with serious outstanding allegations of misconduct over the last month, with one shuttering overnight after reports of children being forced to use bags as toilets.
The Administration’s failure to properly address the border crisis endangers our Republic. Failure to take decisive action will have immeasurable and lasting consequences. Inaction in the name of political expediency is inexcusable.
Today’s hearing is an opportunity to seek answers for the American people, examine how this Administration’s policies are impacting unaccompanied minors, understand the push and pull factors that resulted in 19,000 kids at the border in March, and discuss changes needed to address this situation.
I look forward to the witnesses’ testimony and I thank them for appearing before us today. I yield back.