By Sen. John Cornyn,
Rep. Henry Cuellar
and Rep. Tony Gonzales
18,890. That’s how many unaccompanied children crossed our southern border last month.
For context, it’s enough people to fill every seat in the AT&T Center. We know the journey to our border isn’t safe or easy for children. Many arrive malnourished and in critical health, having endured weeks or even months on the road. Physical and sexual abuse are common. Some young girls arrive pregnant.
These children account for only a fraction of the more than 172,000 migrants Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, encountered along the border in March — the highest number on record. The system is so overwhelmed that children who by law cannot remain in CBP custody for more than 72 hours have been held more than 10 days. The federal government has set up influx care facilities across the state, including Freeman Expo Hall, to help care for children. At one point, the processing facility in Donna was at 1,600 percent capacity.
All of this is happening with the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has made routine tasks such as transporting and caring for migrants incredibly dangerous. Law enforcement, local officials and nonprofits lack the facilities, personnel and resources to manage this crisis in a fair, efficient and humane way. That needs to change.
This past week, we introduced the Bipartisan Border Solutions Act to address the migrant influx at the border. This is the only immigration bill supported by members in both parties and both chambers of Congress. We have also been proud to work with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., a fellow border state native.
First and foremost, our legislation will provide new protections for unaccompanied children. It’s painful this must be put into law, but there should never be a circumstance in which a child is released to the custody of a sex offender, child abuser or other dangerous criminal. The health and well-being of these children is a top priority — while in the care of the government and upon release to sponsors.
Second, the Bipartisan Border Solutions Act will help streamline the processing of migrants. At one point last month, processing centers were so overwhelmed that the Biden administration considered flying migrants to facilities along the northern border — a huge waste of time and resources. Our legislation will establish at least four regional processing centers in high-traffic areas along the border to properly handle the influx of migrants. These will help improve coordination between the various government agencies involved and make the process more efficient. They will also ensure we don’t have to skip important steps of the process — such as issuing a notice to appear in immigration court — due to a facility running beyond its capacity.
Third, this legislation will create a pilot program to expedite legal proceedings. Our immigration court backlog is already 1.3 million cases deep, and the average time for a case to be adjudicated is about 2 1/2 years. With the current surge in migration, those numbers will only grow. It’s in everyone’s best interest to resolve cases fairly and efficiently, and deliver migrants the legal certainty they need to move forward with their lives.
To support this goal, the bill requires the hiring of hundreds of immigration judge teams, asylum officers, litigation teams and other staff. The cases of migrants who arrive during surges will be prioritized to ensure those with legitimate claims can be granted asylum without lengthy delays, while also disincentivizing would-be migrants with weak asylum claims from attempting the dangerous journey to the border.
This bill makes a number of other commonsense changes to alleviate staffing shortages, expand language translation and legal orientation services for migrants, and improve coordination between federal, state and local officials.
We are already facing a humanitarian crisis, and unless we take action, the situation will only get worse. The number of unaccompanied children who arrived on our border more than doubled from February to March. And we are on track to see the highest number of illegal border crossings in two decades.
There is no time for partisan fights and no excuse for inaction. This crisis has placed a dire strain on our resources, and Congress must take action before the entire system collapses.
We have been proud to work across the aisle on the Bipartisan Border Solutions Act. It’s time for our colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join us.
U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), U.S. Representatives Henry Cuellar (TX-28) and Tony Gonzales (TX-23) authored this op-ed in the San Antonio Express-News.