Weekly Columns

Roe Reflects on Visit to the U.S. Southern Border

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Washington D.C., September 6, 2018 | comments

Since the day Donald Trump took office, one of his priorities has been to strengthen our border security and reform our immigration system. His administration has enforced the immigration laws that are on the books that were ignored by previous administrations, and he has been vocal about building a wall on our southern border. There’s no question our immigration system is broken, and I’ve said time and time again that the first step to fixing our broken system - in addition to enforcing current immigration law - is having a secure border. 

Recently, there have been a lot of questions surrounding our border, specifically the separation of families. I believe the situation at the border is much more complex than what has previously been reported. Unfortunately, the situation at the border was created by conflicting laws that were on the books before President Trump even took office. President Trump made the right call when he signed an executive order in June to stop the separation of families in its entirety. No one wants to see a child separated from their parents, and I was disturbed by these images. That is why, last month, I made a trip to the border to see firsthand what was going on. What I saw at the border was much different than the images painted by some media outlets, and I want to share my personal experience. 

One of the main causes of family separation is the Flores Settlement, which sets certain parameters for how to deal with unaccompanied minors who enter our country. Unfortunately, in 2015, a California court expanded this agreement to children who illegally enter the country with their families. Under the Flores Settlement, children cannot be kept in custody for more than 20 days. This means immigration officials are forced to violate the law by either keeping children in custody longer than allowed by the Flores Settlement or separating them from their families so they can be released within the 20-day window. Republican Senators Chuck Grassley, Thom Tillis and Ted Cruz did a great job explaining the current predicament in an op-ed they penned for USA Today. Most coverage of the border I read didn’t mention the Flores Settlement or the fact that previous administrations used it as a justification for their catch-and-release policies. Again, no one wants to see children separated from their parents, but we have a responsibility to put aside the hysteria and consider why these separations were occurring in the first place – our nation’s lack of sufficient border security and the previous administration’s failure to enforce our immigration laws. 

Our border officers’ first priority is the safety of children who cross the border. Under current law, foreign nationals who lawfully seek asylum at a legal point of entry are not separated from their families, barring some risk to the child. The officers need to know if the person or persons who came with the child are in fact their parents or guardians before allowing the child to remain with the adults who brought them into the country. Unfortunately, they’ve found many of these adults are neither related to the children nor the legal guardian and have used that child to get into the country or to create a distraction to traffic drugs across the border. These children have already gone through so much, and I believe Border Patrol is doing everything in their power to treat them with respect and dignity. 

My trip to the border was extremely beneficial and informative. I was able to speak with Border Patrol agents to hear what they think about the current situation. I heard them describe how the existing border fence has been beneficial for reducing crime and illegal border crossings and how a wall-like structure will further deter illegal border crossings. There are 20,000 total border agents across all four U.S. borders, and 95 percent of individuals apprehended while crossing the border illegally come from Mexico and Central America. Every claim from non-contiguous countries gets processed, which has overwhelmed the border officers due the significant number of individuals from those countries. 

Additionally, I had the opportunity to take a tour of a facility where detained children are brought after crossing the border illegally. This facility is run by a not-for-profit organization and housed 170 teenage boys. I had read some stories that portrayed the officers and staff working with the children as “cold and uncaring,” but that was not what I saw. I was very impressed by the dedication of the staff and the meticulously maintained conditions themselves. They had air conditioning in the facilities, a medical clinic, mental health clinic, recreational facilities and catered meals. Many of the children I saw were teenagers and were in good spirits when I saw them, playing soccer or relaxing in their beds.

One of the challenges that remains with our immigration policy and needs to be resolved is how we handle the children who are coming here illegally. There seems to be no question that the Obama Administration’s Deferring Action on Childhood Arrivals policy has created a tremendous incentive for Central American children to make the dangerous journey because of the belief that they will be allowed to stay in the United States permanently. We need policies that deter crossings like this – both for the safety of the people trying to come here illegally, as well as for our national security – and instead incentivize legal immigration. 

Fixing our immigration system is not an easy task, and we are continuing to work on protecting our borders. I’m grateful I had a chance to visit the border firsthand, and I will continue to share my findings from that visit as the immigration discussion unfolds. 
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