Lankford Presses ICE, CBP, GSA on Surge of Illegal Immigration at US Southern Border Ports
CLICK HERE to watch Lankford’s Opening Remarks Q&A on YouTube.
WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK), the lead Republican on the Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Government Operations and Border Management, today participated in a hearing entitled, “Federal Government Perspective: Improving Security, Trade, and travel Flow at the Southwest Border Ports of Entry.” The hearing witnesses included representatives for US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and General Services Administration (GSA).
Lankford specifically noted the chaos the surge of migrants has caused on CBP and ICE but also the impact it has had on deaths in the US because of hard narcotics. Lankford has worked to ensure the US border is protected.
Lankford recently introduced a bill to stop the ongoing settlements between the US government and illegal migrants who were separated from their families at the border.
Lankford continues to lead the Senate on holding the Biden Administration accountable for its failures to enforce the law and preserve national security at our southern border. Earlier this month, Lankford participated in a press conference to discuss the ongoing crisis at the southern border that Biden continues to ignore. Lankford traveled to the Arizona border earlier this year to see first-hand the unfinished southern border wall that was halted by the Biden Administration. He was the first to expose the crisis at the border through Facebook so Oklahomans could see firsthand the crisis at the southern border in Texas.
In July, Lankford released a report that exposed billions in waste to pay contractors to babysit the border wall materials while the Biden Administration “studies” it, even though Congress already allocated the money to build the wall. Lankford grilled DHS Secretary Mayorkas on his ongoing delay to finish the wall.
Lankford successfully blocked President Biden’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office from opening a “surge overflow temporary facility” at the Great Plains Correctional Institution in Hinton, Oklahoma, that would have been used to process migrants who crossed the border illegally and release them into Western Oklahoma.
Lankford expressed support for border law enforcement personnel who have told him they feel they are “handcuffed” by DHS leadership who tells them what immigration laws they can and can’t enforce. Lankford held a press conference with Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado to discuss Lankford’s blistering report of the $2 billion Biden has wasted to not build the wall, the ongoing national security threat at our southern border.
We first took a look in June at the issues facing our ports of entry along the Southwest border. At that time, CBP had encountered a 20-year high in the number of migrants who had attempted to cross the southwest border. We were also seeing a significant surge in the amount of fentanyl that CBP was interdicting along the southwest border. Unfortunately, since June, these problems have only compounded.
We recently concluded Fiscal Year 2021, where we saw that US Customs and Border Protection encountered over 1.7 million migrants – the highest number of encounters in recorded history.
During that same window, CBP interdicted over 10,000 pounds of fentanyl – the highest amount in recorded history and a 10-fold growth from when our government first encountered fentanyl in 2016.
These two data points only capture what we interdict, not the totality of the picture.
Outside experts and officials in the government all are aware that we have many more ‘got-away’ migrants who crossed the border this year and significantly more drugs that were not interdicted as they flowed through our ports of entry.
This crisis has significantly strained the Federal government’s resources, and it has invited active harm into our communities.
Stories about fentanyl overdoses, heroin overdoses, and violence endemic to the narcotic trade are all-too common.
In 2020, Oklahoma reported 629 methamphetamine0related deaths and 137 fentanyl-related deaths. Overdose deaths related to meth and opioids have more than doubled over the past 5 years, and the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics reports that the vast majority of meth and fentanyl seized in Oklahoma are smuggled out of Mexico and across the Southwest border.
We’re becoming even more aware of the humanitarian and national security implications of the ongoing migrant surge at the southwest border, as we hear stories about unaccompanied minors being victimized by labor trafficking at poultry farms.
Around the same time that DHS began re-opening travel to ‘fully vaccinated non-essential travelers,’ Customs and Border Protection announced that has formally ended the policy of metering, which allows for CBP to control the flow of migrants during large surges by “metering” or creating a waiting list for the migrants to enter the United States and claim asylum.
The Obama Administration instituted metering in 2016 to ensure that CBP could fully meet its obligations to facilitate secure and lawful trade and travel at our ports while dealing with a surge of migrants.
Career staff who served during the Obama and Trump Administrations have stated that the metering policy was a useful tool as CBP navigated increased flows of migrants.
Rescinding this vital tool will open up our ports to increased risk by allowing cartels to surge migrants at the ports and overwhelm and distract CBP while they move more fentanyl and hard narcotics across the border.
As our country re-opens to travel, we have not yet seen how DHS will manage the increased demand for lawful trade and travel across our southwest border.
However, the rescission of the metering policy will only force CBP to make even harder decisions about how to balance responding to a surge of migrants while fulfilling its mission of facilitating lawful trade and travel and protecting our country from illicit narcotics and transnational criminal organizations.
Our port facilities at the Southwest border further compound these problems. They are not designed to hold individuals in detention, which is why CBP has historically relied on metering.
These facilities are also becoming increasingly strained and facing difficulties meeting our trade obligations or handling an increase in travelers.
The General Services Administration told Congress in a report that ‘Steady global and regional growth has funneled more people and goods through the Nation’s aging land port of entry infrastructure than it is able to handle. Two-thirds of our land ports of entry have not had capital improvements over the past decade.’
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve heard about disrupted supply chains and long wait times for shipped goods. We’ve faced significant difficulties obtaining the analogs and components our country needs for manufacturing.
As our sea ports continue to face crisis levels of congestion, it is likely that our aging land ports will face increased strains as they struggle to keep up with the demand for goods.
Unfortunately, many of our ports along the Southwest border were built before NAFTA and the USMCA, and they haven’t been touched since these two agreements went into effect.
Even worse, our ports have not been able to keep up with the evolving threat landscape over the past few decades.
China has recently begun exploiting our aging ports at the southwest border by shipping fentanyl and synthetic opioid analogs to Mexico and then working with the cartels to smuggle these analogs through our ports and into our country for compounding and distribution.
According to the DEA, “Cartels transport bulk quantity, polydrug loads via commercial and passenger vehicles,” and they do so by exploiting ‘major highway routes for transportation.’ The DEA notes that the most common method of drug smuggling into the United States involves ‘smuggling illicit drugs through US Ports of Entry in passenger vehicles with concealed compartments or commingled with legitimate goods on tractor-trailers.’
Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll see the strains on our aging ports as we work to re-open our country.
And, unless the Biden Administration takes action to get the border crisis under control, we’ll also likely see the ongoing migrant surge continue to take away from CBP’s efforts to stop the illicit narcotics, counterfeit goods, and other threats that undermine our public safety and national security.
I’m very excited today to hear from our witnesses about where our weaknesses at our ports are and how we can work toward securely improving lawful trade and travel along the Southwest border.
Thank you for appearing before our committee today, I look forward to the discussion.