As the State of the Union approaches, I felt it was important to get a true and unfiltered “state of the border” from the great men and women of our Border Patrol (CBP). I was honored to join them — and my House colleague from Texas Dan Crenshaw — in the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) sector along our border this past week. The truth is that dangerous cartels exploiting our asylum laws increasingly control our borders even though we have the power to stop it.
What do we know? First, we know that along southern Texas in particular, the Gulf cartel controls illegal trafficking across the border. CBP estimates almost 400,000 individuals will cross our border this year in the RGV sector — of which close to 50 percent may not be apprehended. In many cases, agents will be alerted but not have the resources to apprehend the crossers — as the cartel runs a sophisticated, profit-driven operation to move them.
Each person who crosses pays a fee — a portion of which goes straight to the Gulf cartel, earning them well over $100 million in a year. Whatever the migrants or their families cannot afford, they end up having to “work off.” Indeed, even as we visited CBP, a stash house was discovered in Houston with 54 individuals who were being held hostage to pay off their “debt.”
Two 16-year-old boys I spoke to just a few yards from the Rio Grande explained how they had been held for a number of days to work to pay their way and slept in a park in Reynosa at night. When I asked them about girls who were traveling and whether they were forced into sex, they shuffled around and said not the girls they were with but some they knew in groups behind them. Some say the cartel protects girls to encourage more “for good business,” but even so, a large number are abused.
Ironically, these people are generally leaving countries that are less dangerous than is Tamaulipas — the Mexican state directly across the river from the RGV, which is designated by our department of state as “Level 4,” a “no travel” state. There are routinely shoot-outs within earshot of our border, and thousands of pounds of narcotics — increasingly dangerous heroin and fentanyl — are trafficked, often using human trafficking as a distraction or a shield to move it, both at the ports of entry and between them.
But we can stop this. Because the second thing we know with some certainty is that fences and physical assets radically improve the ability of CBP to do its job. The data could not be more clear. In the Rio Grande Valley, there is significant fencing and physical infrastructure in the eastern section near Brownsville — but far less in the west, near McCallen, leaving the border in many areas wide open, with no access for Border Patrol, few cameras, and little fencing. It is of no surprise that 94 percent of the crossings in the RGV sector occur in the western portion, just as it is no surprise that the fencing along Southern California dropped apprehensions from over 500,000 in the mid 1990s to close to 30,000 now, and that fencing and increased assets have reduced apprehensions by close to 90 percent in Arizona and El Paso in the past as well.
Finally, all the security measures that we must put in place to stem the flow of drugs, people, and contraband will be absolutely futile if we do not immediately reform our asylum laws and ensure that we detain families fully intact, rather than being forced to choose, thanks to the decision of one federal judge, between family separation and “catch and release.” These broken and abused laws are empowering cartels, endangering migrants, and overrunning our hard-working and capable Border Patrol, which allows those same cartels to exploit vulnerabilities to move dangerous narcotics and even more people for profit.
This is the state of our border, despite the heroic efforts of our CBP in the face of a recalcitrant Congress that refuses to do its job. We are the most powerful and generous nation in the history of the world. We should act like it by securing our border. The Trump administration’s request for funding is fully in line with previous requests by the Department of Homeland Security, is consistent with laws previously passed by Congress including the Secure Fence Act, and is a common-sense first step toward border security. It would fund 234 miles of fencing, 75 judges, 50,000-plus beds, over 1,000 additional Border Patrol agents, $600 million in humanitarian relief, and otherwise carry out the basics of the job. We should take these simple steps immediately — and then get busy fixing asylum and reducing the power of the cartels, to protect both our citizens and the migrants who seek to come here.