Lankford: We Are 13 Months Into this Administration and They Still Have No Plan to Secure the Border
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WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) addressed his colleagues on the Senate floor on his recent oversight trip to the US/Mexico border in the Rio Grande Valley section. Since returning, Lankford has been focused on sharing the ongoing national crisis at the border which is a direct result of the Biden Administration’s lack of leadership and enforcement of US law.
Lankford, along with his Senate Republican colleagues, called on the Biden Administration to stop the chaos and secure our border. Last week, he revisited the border in the Rio Grande Valley sector to see what progress had been made on reconstruction of the wall and re-implementing the federal court mandate on the “Remain in Mexico” policy. Lankford gave several updates during his trip from the new construction at the border and while he was on a night watch. Lankford is a member of the Homeland Security Committee and the Ranking Member of the Government Operations and Border Management Subcommittee.
Lankford began the day Friday at the Brownsville (TX) Port of Entry, followed by an in-person assessment of the Brownsville Immigration Hearing Facility (IHF) facility to further discuss the reinstatement of Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy. Then Lankford was briefed at the Fort Brown Station on the MPP enrollment process, moving to the Donna Holding Facility for additional oversight of ongoing operations. Lankford was able to see firsthand areas of the fencing Biden has decided to construct as well as the current levee remediation sites proposed by the Biden Administration. Lankford concluded the day with an aerial ride along with CBP as they identified people illegally crossing the border, followed by a late-night ride along with Border Patrol on the ground as they encountered rafts of people coming across the river into the United States.
Last year, Lankford traveled to the Arizona border to see first-hand the unfinished construction of the southern border wall. 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.
Last weekend I spent time down at the southwest border. An area the chair’s very familiar with. This time I was in the Rio Grande valley which has the most illegal crossings across our entire southwest border. You can track the movement across that border. This is from 2014 to 2022. What’s happened along this area of the border, just this one specific area, what’s called the Rio Grande valley area, around McAllen and Brownsville?
It starts here in October with the numbers low and some years it came up, but it was up and down and it was down significantly in October. Again, in Central America, they celebrate Christmas as well and a lot of folks want to head back home or want to be there so immigration doesn’t cross south to north significantly most years in October, November, December, January, except for this odd line that seems really out of balance from the rest of the lines in the last decade. It’s this line right here. This line is actually last year. This line shows the number two million people that have illegally crossed our southwest border last year that we know of. Two million. That’s this line. And typically in every other year, it’s way down low, when you get to October, November, and December, that’s over here. Here’s the low months, not this year.
It’s already started way up high. In fact, what’s interesting is October, November, December, if you took any one of those months, there’s as many people illegally crossing the border the Rio Grande valley in October, November, December, as in the last three years in that month combined. Let me run that past everybody again. Take any month, October, November, December, they were higher illegal crossings that we know of than the last three years combined than any year that we know of.
My fear is, and some people have said, we have a problem on our southern border. I actually believe the Biden administration policy is working exactly as they designed to work. Exactly. They created a structure and a system to allow as many people as possible to be able to cross our southern border and it’s working exactly as they wanted. Why do I say that? When you announce they are going to change every policy for how we’re interdicting individuals when they cancel agreements with central America that’s actually limiting the number of people there and then you don’t replace it with anything, you’ve got to know this is what’s going to happen, and a year later when nothing’s changed, this is what’s going to happen.
The agents in the Rio Grande Valley anticipate by the time we get to the summer we’re going to be at 9,000 people a day crossing. There were many months that we didn’t have that many people crossing, they are anticipating with this line, 9,000 a day. So far what has the Biden administration done? They’ve stuck with their plan because it’s doing exactly what they taught it was going to do. I’m amazed the number of people that I talked to have grown number to what’s happening on our southern border, and the media has looked away. We talked about it for area year and that’s old news and so they haven’t talked about the nearly two million people who crossed the border.
Spending time with CBP, ICE, and other people there, they can tell me firsthand the stories of last week late at night the five Syrians that they picked up crossing the southern border in the brush. Those five Syrians were part of the count. They told me directly of the story of the Nicaraguans single adult male they picked up crossing the border in the Rio Grande, he said he was part of the Nicaraguans military and within 48 hours he was released into the united states and they were furious about. Their question was very, very simple. A single adult male, former member of the military is in our country, and they have no idea why because they are doing their job, but the policies that they have to work with right now of how many people they have to be able to cut loose and how hard it is to be able to detain people in the limiting policies of the Biden Administration are fulfilling what it is designed to do.
There’s been a lot of conversation on this floor and I brought several times to this body the construction of the border barriers down in the southwest. This is something that members of the border patrol have asked for again and again and again. Close the gaps they always say. Close the gaps. There are these massive gaps where that was under construction. January of last year, construction stopped. Over and over again people have said close the gaps. Close the gaps. Those gaps we have to patrol.
Let me give you an example. When I got down there, they now announced they are closing the gaps. Everyone went, ‘Great, the gaps are being closed.’ But I got down there to be able to look at the gaps being closed. Let me show you what it looks like. We were all in a helicopter with CBP and watch people cross the border illegally. From the aerial shot, you can—I hope you can see—this was the existing wall that was constructed during the Trump administration, this tall 30-foot wall with the anti-climb portion on it. Here’s where the construction stopped. It was all the way through here. There was a gap. They started another section here. They were getting ready to put up the other sections but had to stop.
The Biden Administration says they’re going to close the gaps. I hope you don’t miss it. They’ve announced the gaps are closed. Can you see this tiny little picket fence on the bottom here? Probably not. This tiny little picket fence that’s at the bottom, that’s what they say has closed the gaps. It’s not just open. They have a tiny little decorative fence there and that’s their announced we’ve closed the gap. That’s not going to deter anyone. They know it full well. It’s not designed to deter anyone. It’s designed to allow the administration to say we closed the gap and hope no one looks at it because that gap will fulfill exactly what it is designed to fulfill, that is, to allow people in, not keep people out. That doesn’t help the Border Patrol and they know it. Because it’s not designed to be able to help the Border Patrol. And they know it.
Federal courts required the Biden Administration to put in place what was a Trump policy before dealing with those individuals coming to seek asylum in the United States. It’s called MPP, some call it ‘Remain in Mexico’. The policy basically said if you want to come into the country, you had to pause, get in line, register so we know where you are, we’d set up an orderly process and would you have to stay in the border region until it was time for your hearing to occur. There was a dramatic drop in individuals that were illegally crossing our border because they knew they wouldn’t automatically get in, what’s called ‘catch and release’. That they wouldn’t just come across, westbound? be released in the country and wait two years for a hearing. Two years. That’s what it used to be to wait for the hearing. Until they shift to the Remain in Mexico policy. You have to stay in the border region until it’s time for your hearing. Within months they would come forward, get their hearing and make a determination whether they get asylum or not. Federal courts have said to the Biden Administration, you have to put that policy in place. After months of delay, they have agreed to do it. It’s one of the place I wanted to stop and see.
This is an overview of the Brownsville location for the Remain in Mexico policy. This overview shows the setup that they have created there in Brownsville to do the hearings. There’s an intake area for processing, gathering area, medical area. There are six courtrooms that are set up. The courtrooms that are set up are all set up as large courtrooms where up to 22 different defendants could be here with their attorneys. All the courtrooms have videoconferencing set up as a full-on courtroom for that location. In each location there are 120 individual office spaces set up. 120 where individuals that illegally crossed the border could meet with their lawyer.
So six courtrooms, 120 meeting spaces, all the ancillary space. This is a massive complex. When I was down there last week, they had so far handled three people. Three. And they weren’t sure how many they were going to handle this week. Why? Because the Remain in Mexico policy, MPP, whatever you want to call it, they created a system with so many exceptions in it that they could tell the federal courts, yes, we’re doing it but in reality they’re not. Realizing this month they had about 45,000 people illegally cross the border in this zone just in January. But only three they made eligible to go through this process of the 45,000. Why? Well, they made a whole set of stipulations.
They said if you come in a family group, you’re not eligible to come in here. If you declare you have a medical issue of any type, no matter how minor it may be, you’re not eligible to be able to go through this program. If you’re LGBT, you’re not eligible to go through this program. If you’re 75 years or older, you’re not eligible to able to go through this program. If you’re Nicaraguan, you’re not eligible to go through this program. If you’re Venezuelan, you’re not eligible to go through this program. You get the hint? They set so many criteria up to be able to list out no, no, no, no, no, that the poor three people that were left that didn’t fit in those categories, they’re going through it.
By the way, each person is given 24 hours with their lawyer before they actually have to go through this process so counsel could give them the full list of all the items that they could collect and say if you meet any of these criteria verbally, if you just say you meet any of these criteria, then you’re out. And what is your out mean? You’re released into the United States. And you await your hearing. Remember when I said during the Trump Administration those hearings would take up to two years before you got to an asylum hearing? Well, when I met with DHS officials this week, it’s not two years anymore. It’s now six years. You illegally cross the border; you get a paper. They release you into the country. You get on a bus or a plane, literally go anywhere you want to go in the country and set a date six years from now to show up at your court hearing. That’s on average, by the way. Some are longer than that.
Now you tell me what happens if someone illegally crosses the border, they’re processed within 48 hours, given a document that says you can be here six years to go anywhere you want to go in the country, what do you think they’re going to do when they pick up their cell phone? I’ll tell you what’s happening. They’re texting a family member back home. They’re texting friends back home and saying I got in and here’s how I did it. Come join me. And they are. Two million people last year. And the response so far has been decorative fencing, what they actually call guard rails in the area and empty court rooms. By the way, this was the middle of the day when I was there. Empty court rooms with no one being processed. All so they can say they did something. American taxpayers paid millions of dollars for this setup so they could say they’re doing something when they’re actually doing nothing, getting the results exactly as they correctly before they reach the country.
Of course everyone is being required to be vaccinated except they’re not. If you’re a legal green card holder, you are required to be vaccinated. President Biden is trying to vaccinate everyone in private businesses, in the federal workforce, federal contractors, members of the military are being kicked out of the military this week if they’re not vaccinated. Oh, but if you cross the border illegally, you’re given the option whether you want a vaccine or not. It’s offered to you for free. But it’s not mandated. It’s voluntary. What’s the result? Well, some of the results are pretty obvious.
The numbers are skyrocketing. As I showed you before, these are record numbers of individuals crossing the border illegally. That’s seeable. Let me tell you what’s not seeable at this point. The drug cartels in Mexico are getting richer and richer and richer. They’re moving record amounts of drugs across our border, making an incredible amount of money for the cartels, continuing to strengthen those drug cartels on the border. But each of the individuals that cross our southern border also pay a fee to the cartels, each of them. You don’t cross the southern border into the United States without crossing through one of the cartel areas and each one of them has to pay. It’s somewhere around $4,000 to $30,000 per person to be able to cross through Mexico and into the United States. $4,000 if you’re from Guatemala. $30,000 if you’re from China. And none of us should be surprised. Just last year people from more than a hundred countries crossed into the United States that we picked up and interdicted illegally, more than a hundred countries.
This common conversation about well, it’s all folks from Central America. There are a lot of folks from Central America coming. But it’s people from over a hundred countries, including those five Syrians that were picked up just last week. Do some rough math. If people pay between $4,000 and $30,000 a person and there were two million people that crossed illegally last year that we know of, that’s $10 billion paid to the cartels. $10 billion. And our open borders are allowing the cartels to rake in that kind of cash. When I visited with the border patrol and got a chance to be able to talk to them, their morale is awful, as you can imagine. They’re doing their job. They’re busting it every day. But they’re frustrated.
They’re frustrated of the policies they’re having to enforce when there used to be law enforcement folks enforcing our southern border. Now they’re hotel check-in staff that are just greeting people at the border, processing them, and releasing them into the country. That is not what they signed up for. They signed up to protect our country. And literally they cannot. In this case law enforcement is handcuffed and the criminals are released. It shouldn’t be that way. And they know it. Usually October, November, December, January are lower months. Not so this time. They’re exhausted from a record amount of illegal crossings last year, and they were hoping to get a bit of a break. But with the policies in place, didn’t matter how cold it is. People are still coming. And on top of all that, here’s what else happened last month. Just one example. This is a border patrol vehicle that had just interdicted a group of folks at the border. I don’t know whether you can see it or not, but that’s a giant bullet hole in the front of it. And that’s another bullet hole in it. And that’s another bullet hole right behind the passenger window.
By the way, this particular moment, they had actually already picked somebody up and they were sitting in that back seat. The border patrol every day risk their lives to be able to enforce the law and for this group of folks they pick up, within hours they’re released. And they’re somewhere in the country waiting on a court hearing six years from now if they ever show up for the hearing. You want to know how frustrated this group of law enforcement is. They risk their lives for nothing because this is the policy of the Biden administration. This is not an accident. This is what it has brought. As they run through tonight, the heavy brush along a very cold Texas-Mexico border, they will pick people up and they will faithfully do their job because they have over and over again only to have a policy that cuts them loose. How long?
Listen, Border Patrol agents have families, too. Their families matter as well. And all this talk about we’re going to be compassionate to the families of people that are illegally crossing the border, what we’re really doing is enriching the cartels in Mexico, encouraging people to make a very dangerous journey, releasing them into the country with nonlegal status to live in the shadows in our nation and putting law enforcement at risk for their life. This should not be. And while the country just seems to move on and ignore the chaos at our border, this is still what’s going on tonight, and it needs to stop. This administration has the ability to change policy and to change direction on our southern border, and they are not. They are not doing it, on purpose. And the results are chaos.
I wish I was wrong on this. There’s something called Title 42. Title 42 means we have a COVID epidemic happening, no kidding. And under a COVID epidemic, or under any kind of epidemic, law enforcement is able to take some individuals, single adults from certainty countries, and turn them around, send them right back in and say you can’t come in because of the epidemic. We have enormous numbers of those individuals coming. Right now, some of those individuals from some of those countries are being turned around, thankfully. When I’ve asked DHS, what is your plan for those individuals, once the COVID epidemic ends, and it does, God willing, end one day, when it ends what is your plan? We’re now 13 months into this administration, and they still have no plan. That’s not just my guess. That’s my point-blank asking. What is the plan? What is the plan to turn people around once the COVID pandemic for that that small group of folks you are turning around? They don’t have one. It doesn’t take 13 months to determine what you’re going to do. That just tells me the plan is when the COVID pandemic ends those folks get in, too. When does this end? Who’s going to stand up and help us, just enforce the laws of our country?