Tuesday, July 30, 2019

U.S. Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, an Ohio Republican, discusses a trip he took to the border with Rep. Ben McAdams, a Utah Democrat.

Updated Jul 27, 2019; Posted Jul 26, 2019

U.S. Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, an Ohio Republican, discusses a trip he took to the border with Rep. Ben McAdams, a Utah Democrat.

WASHINGTON, D.C. - For U.S. Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, a nameless Honduran infant who showed up at a U.S. border crossing in McAllen, Texas this month without his parents epitomizes a national immigration crisis caused by well-intentioned policies that aren’t working out as planned.
The Rocky River Republican, who visited several U.S. immigration facilities along the Mexican border last weekend with a congressional group called the Bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, said the boy, who appeared to be around eight or nine months old, was brought to the border by a young man who initially claimed to be his father, but admitted he was unrelated when he had to take a DNA test to prove his parentage.
The United States’ well-meaning policy to prioritize admission of immigrant families has perversely created a market for kids, says Gonzalez. The drug cartels that bring immigrants from Central America to the United States charge $8,000 for a single young man’s passage, but just $4,000 for entire families.
The man who brought the infant to the U.S. border said he didn’t know the baby’s name. He gave the child to border agents, along with a phone number in Honduras that was purportedly for the child’s family. Immigration officials hadn’t been able to reach the child’s family, and volunteers were pushing him around the immigration facility in a stroller.
“If you think about that baby, there’s really only a handful of potential starting points,” says Gonzalez, who has an infant son of his own. “Either the baby was kidnapped, the parents were killed, or the parents willingly gave the baby up. That’s where you very clearly see this is a real crisis and we have to do something about this.”

Utah Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams, who also was among the ten Republicans and seven Democrats who visited McAllen, said the condition of the facilities they toured depended on the nature of their use. A Baptist family services facility that was turned into a boarding-school type facility for unaccompanied boys between the ages of 6 and 18 who had nowhere else to go in the United States was clean, says McAdams, with dorm rooms and a cafeteria. Its occupants had been in the United States for six months to three years.

McAllen’s Central Processing Facility for immigrants to the United States was designed to serve around 1,000 people at a time, but contained roughly 3,000. As a result, parts of the facility were extremely overcrowded, with people living in bad conditions while overtaxed border patrol agents processed their asylum applications. McAdams said people stayed there only a few days before they were released to go to an airport or bus station to travel someplace where they’ve got a family connection.
Conditions were better at the Donna migrant detention facility, because that facility was not filled to overcapacity. Legislators said the cartels deliberately try to swamp particular facilities with refugees so more border agents will be sent there, leaving other parts of the border without patrols so the cartels can smuggle drugs into the United States through unpatrolled areas.
Gonzalez and McAdams, who both speak Spanish, said the immigrants they interviewed were all confident they’d be released into the United States because of the crisis situation at the border. Since there aren’t adequate facilities or staffing to handle the flow of immigrants and because immigration courts are backlogged, people know they’ll be released into the United States.
Although the vast majority of immigrants they met were from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, the pair said they also met immigrants from China, Cuba and Bangladesh who deliberately decided to enter the United States through its southern border because they realized overcrowding made it likely they’d be admitted after a short stay in a holding facility. They’re given immigration court dates far into the future, and many don’t show up.

“The goal should be to have a system that treats people fairly, but expediently,” says Gonzalez. “We should find ways to make sure these cases are heard more quickly. We also need to make sure that everyone who immigrates into the country has been vetted and has a place here, and there’s no way to do that quickly under the system we have today because of the overcrowding.”
A slew of Congress members have visited the nation’s southern border in recent weeks, including both of Ohio’s U.S. Senators and Niles-area Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan, who is running for president.

Gonzalez says his own father and grandparents legally immigrated to the United States from Cuba after spending months in their home country waiting for their paperwork to be approved. Fearing execution by Fidel Castro’s regime, the family hid in other people’s houses, traveling frequently to avoid capture, says Gonzalez.
“My perspective has always been that you want an immigration system that prioritizes and rewards legal immigration,” says Gonzalez. “That’s ultimately what my family chose to do.”
Gonzalez and McAdams said the nation’s well-intentioned asylum system is being exploited by people who are using it to short circuit the nation’s immigration process. They said the asylum system should be reserved for people who legitimately fear for their lives, instead of people who are merely seeking better economic opportunities or fleeing crime in their home countries. Roughly a quarter of the people who seek asylum in the United States are deemed to have a legitimate claim, but the rest get to remain in the country for the years it takes to process their claims.

“The asylum process is breaking down, because we’ve signaled to people that’s a way to come to the border and be allowed in,” says McAdams.

The pair hope that visiting the border as part of a bipartisan group will help them devise reforms that Republicans and Democrats can agree upon, ending the longtime stalemate that’s worsened the nation’s immigration problems. They suggest that adding more judges would help reduce legal bottlenecks at the border, and allowing immigrants to seek asylum at U.S. embassies in their home country might keep people from walking thousands of miles to the United States through dangerous conditions under the control of a drug cartel.
“My first takeaway from this visit is that the situation is complicated and partisan rhetoric has made it more complicated,” says McAdams. “We’re going to commit to dialing down the rhetoric. We need to recognize the humanity of the people who are coming to the border, but at the same time, recognize the humanity of the customs and border patrol agents who are asked to do an impossible job with very little resources.”
McAdams recalled visiting a part of the Rio Grande where immigrants swim across the river, and speaking with a border agent who had been traumatized by discovering the bodies of a mother and her three children who died of exposure when they got lost looking for a law enforcement agent to whom they could make an asylum claim.
Gonzalez said rhetoric denigrating the border patrol should end.
“Our group was near unanimous in feeling sympathy for the border patrol, because we’ve made their job so much more difficult as a Congress because we haven’t been able to figure this out,” Gonzalez says. “We are putting them in unbelievably difficult situations.”

Popular Posts