Drug cartels bring unaccompanied children to the Rio Grande valley to serve as diversions that distract border security officials from smugglers and drug traffickers, according to a Border Patrol union official.
"The unaccompanied minors could have walked right up to the Port of Entry and asked for asylum," Brandon Judd, National Border Patrol Council official, told a House Judiciary subcommittee panel in prepared testimony on Thursday. "Why did the cartels drive them to the middle of the desert and then have them cross over the Rio Grande only to surrender to the first Border Patrol agent they came across? The reason is that it completely tied up our manpower and allowed the cartels to smuggle whatever they wanted across our border."
Judd appeared at the hearing alongside officials from the Texas state government and a nonprofit child advocacy group. The witnesses disagreed about whether the unaccompanied children should be regarded as illegal immigrants or refugees fleeing violence in Central America, but they agreed that President Obama's team has neglected a growing border crisis since it began in 2011 and called for more manpower on the border. That manpower would go toward securing the border and caring for traumatized children.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's representative faulted the Department of Homeland Security for ignoring their requests for more border security support. "Most recently, DHS requested a 50 percent reduction of persistent aerial detection, situational awareness, and monitoring support for Operation Phalanx from the Department of Defense," Steven McCraw, director of the state's Department of Public Safety, said in his prepared remarks. "Any decrease in aerial observation is not only imprudent, but contradicts the very mission of comprehensive border security enforcement."
Wendy Young, president of Kids in Need of Defense, argued that the emphasis on law enforcement was counterproductive and pointed to the violence in Central America as the driving cause of the border crisis. The Obama administration's "poor planning" led to government officials being caught flat-footed when 68,000 children showed up on the border in 2014, even though the influx had begun and grown steadily since 2011, she said.
They compounded the problem by taking shortcuts when releasing the children to putative family members, some of whom proved to be human traffickers, and by rushing the hearings in which judges could decide if the children should be deported.
"The act of coming to the U.S. and applying for asylum is not illegal under our immigration laws," Young said. "It is fundamentally unfair for any child to face removal proceedings without the assistance of counsel. Our staff has witnessed children as young as three years old appear in court without an attorney. This violates due process and contradicts the U.S. principle of due process and respect for the rule of law."
Judd, the Border Patrol union official, noted that federal officials are taking shortcuts on the law enforcement side as well. He told the lawmakers that about 40 percent of illegal immigrants ignore the notice to appear in federal court; and so, DHS issued a new policy requiring Border Patrol officials to release more of the immigrants they arrest. "Agents believe this exploitable policy was set in place because DHS was embarrassed at the sheer number of those who choose not to follow the law by showing up for their court appearances," Judd said.
And each new policy, he said, gives the cartels a new loophole to exploit. "Make no mistake, chaos defines parts of our southwest border today," Judd told the lawmakers.