Four Republican lawmakers Thursday sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson demanding a crackdown on the southwest border, where U.S. border agents have been trying to deal with a massive surge in illegal border crossings.
The letter notes that border crossings are up and that DHS is currently detaining a record 40,000 illegal immigrants.
“The onslaught of illegal immigration reflects continued efforts by aliens from Central America — El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala — to overwhelm our limited resources at the border.”
“The onslaught of illegal immigration reflects continued efforts by aliens from Central America — El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala — to overwhelm our limited resources at the border, which inevitably results in the release of tens of thousands of removable aliens within the United States,” the letter states.
The chairmen of the Senate and House judiciary panels, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), signed the letter, as well as the immigration subcommittee chairmen in both chambers, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.).
Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, said such letters can serve to put federal agencies on notice and inform the public.
“I’m sure there’s some political value, as well,” she said.
Pressure at the border has been fueled by multiple factors. The numbers of unaccompanied minors and adults traveling with children have spiked in recent months. In addition, thousands of Haitians and Africans have been traveling to the Mexican cities of Tijuana and Mexicali in the hope of making “dubious claims of asylum, which will practically guarantee their entry,” the lawmakers wrote.
People from countries other than Mexico now comprise 70 percent to 75 percent of all border crossings.
Border agents apprehended 408,870 illegal immigrants in the 12-month period that ended Sept. 30, an increase of 23 percent over the previous fiscal year. The Department of Health and Human Services reported Monday that daily referrals of unaccompanied minors averaged 262 over the last week, and about 237 in October. That compares with 148 referrals a day in October 2014 during a previous surge of children at the border.
Vaughan said U.S. policy is encouraging people to go to Mexico.
“If not for the knowledge that we would let them in, Mexico would not be issuing them transit visas,” she said. “Mexico, unlike the United States, wants to enforce its immigration laws.”
Vaughan said the United States could have prevented the border crisis by taking a hard line, beginning with the first wave in 2014. She said DHS has received billions of additional dollars but has used those resources to resettle foreigners in the country. It should instead set up Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers and immigration judges at the ports of entry to make quick determinations about the merit of asylum claims.
“It would require a short-term infusion of resources to deal with the cases that stacked up while we implemented a policy change,” she said. “It’s just a matter of how they apply resources. It’s a self-inflicted problem.”
As of Oct. 27, the Office of Refugee Resettlement was caring for about 10,700 children.
“While we applaud the department’s efforts to increase detention capacity in response to this surge, we are keenly aware of the limited resources available to the department for apprehension and detention of removable aliens, and we want to ensure that you are not again considering the mass-release of criminals and other aliens who are subject to removal,” the letter states. “As such, we expect you to be forthcoming with Congress regarding this critical situation and your proposed efforts to address it.”
The lawmakers also expressed concern that Homeland Security officials abruptly canceled a briefing that was scheduled for this week with congressional staff members. What’s more, the lawmakers wrote they had become aware of a possible directive by the department to limit contact with Congress until after next week’s election.
“Any such directive, if issued, would be an unacceptable political ploy and a serious infringement on Congress’ oversight authority under the Constitution,” they wrote. “We fully expect that such a directive, if issued, would be immediately rescinded.”