The Dallas Morning News
U.S. facing its worst immigration crisis
Yet GOP bill caters to extremes, does nothing to soothe border crisis, congressman says
The 118th Congress is as gridlocked as it gets. With a Republican-led House taking on a Democrat-led Senate and White House, lawmakers face an uphill battle to pass just about anything. One thing we should all be able to agree on, though, is that the crisis at our southern border has to stop.
Open border policies have made Texas ground zero for the worst immigration crisis in U.S. history. I represent more than 40% of the southern border in Congress, so I can tell you firsthand the lives of my constituents have been completely upended. From Del Rio to El Paso, high-speed smuggling chases, school lockdowns and property break-ins have become a daily occurrence. Quiet Texas towns are now front-page news stories, and families feel unsafe in their own homes, unable to let their kids play outside in peace.
This Congress, there is an opportunity for both parties to resolve their differences and work together on fixing this problem. Amnesty is off the table. Nor can we go as far as to abolish the system altogether. We must focus on results over rhetoric, but the only way that can get done is if we propose realistic solutions that have a chance of being signed into law.
Instead, a few of my colleagues are putting all their chips on a three-page, elementary messaging bill titled the Border Safety and Security Act (HR 29). While the name sounds enticing, it proposes turning everyone away at our border without exception. Specifically, it bars all asylum-seekers in one fell swoop, including those with legitimate, life-or-death claims like Honduran youth pastor Douglas Oviedo.
In Honduras, Oviedo was known for offering young children an alternative to gang membership by involving them in the church. Unfortunately, he was so effective in his persuasion that gangs started personally targeting him. In 2018, Oviedo was finally left with no choice but to flee his home and seek religious freedom in the United States. A year later, he won his asylum claim, avoiding a sure death in Central America. Under HR 29, however, Oviedo would have been turned away at our border in a heartbeat.
Not only is this un-american, it’s self-defeating. If people fleeing legitimate persecution can’t seek refuge through our front door, what makes us believe they won’t find a way in illegally?
The longer our immigration system remains broken, the better human smugglers become at their trade. Do we really want to continue emboldening the cartels because we don’t have the cojones to fix our immigration laws?
To be technical, HR 29 does say that asylum claims can be heard, but only if everyone can be detained. This is a wildly unrealistic goal. Border Patrol is already splitting at the seams trying to deal with the current crisis. Their facilities are overflowing, and they have been taken off the front lines to deal with processing. To suggest they can detain every single person without giving them more tools to do their jobs is a standard that’s set to fail. And when it fails intentionally, a shutdown at the border would make our crisis snowball, not improve.
Instead, we should be fixing the root problems of why our system is broken to begin with. Part of that involves giving legitimate asylum seekers their day in court. The other part involves deporting individuals with unmerited claims more quickly.
According to Department of Justice statistics, the overwhelming majority of those who claim asylum don’t ultimately qualify, yet they are released into our country, often for years on end, because our immigration courts are too backlogged to respond efficiently. If cases could be adjudicated in a timely manner, and individuals without valid claims deported quickly, other wouldbe migrants would think twice about making the trek to our border with spurious asylum claims. That’s how Congress can end “catch and release” policies. A three-page bill that caters to political extremes is far from that.
What kind of message is this bill intended to send to the American people? That we would support sending five little girls who were found on a ranch in Texas back into the hands of the human smugglers who abandoned them? Those are not Republican values, and they are certainly not American values.
Last cycle, the Republican Party won overwhelming support from Hispanic Americans by advocating for values they resonate with, including God, family and work ethic. As a result, there are a record 18 Hispanic conservatives serving in Congress this term. From Texas to Florida to New York, we are representing our Hispanic communities, which make up nearly 19% of the American population and 40% in Texas. Supporting an anti-immigrant bill that makes no effort to stop the chaos at our border is a step in the wrong direction that could have consequences at the polls, from federal to state elections.
HR 29 is a losing piece of legislation. My constituents can’t afford more illegal traffickers in their communities, and Republicans can’t afford to lose the Hispanic vote. Bottom line: HR 29 is all hat, no cattle.