Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford describes visit to US-Mexico border: 'Really horrific'
There's been a lot of speculation circulating about whether there's a crisis as the number of immigrants flowing across the border into the United States has become increasingly prevalent since President Joe Biden took office.
U.S. Sen. James Lankford has taken trips to the southern border each weekend for the past three weeks to assess what the situation really looks like right now.
He didn't like what he saw.
Three weeks ago he visited an area just outside of Nogales, Arizona.
“That area is a significant border crossing; it's one of the areas where the border wall construction has stopped,” he said. “I wanted to be able to see what that looks like — because you get kind of a visual (idea or assumption) of stopping border construction that all the fence is done but one mile and then it just stops after that, and you're able to see there that's really not what the case is.”
How is Biden addressing immigration?
He said they do the construction in stages.
“So they built the fence just for miles and miles and miles, but the last piece there to be able to close it in were the gates; they're there for maintenance on both sides,” he explained. “So, every little bit there will be an opening there that will be for maintenance on both sides of it.”
Lankford said crews were literally in the process of constructing the gates Jan. 20.
“And it just stopped that day,” he said. “All the materials are laid on the ground there next to the open gap there is a gate."
He said on the other side was supposed to be road, and then technology was going to be put in that would surveil the area.
“The ground-sensing technology, the cameras, the lights, all those things they need are not constructed,” he said. “They are purchased, but none are actually installed."
The road, he said, is not finished, and neither is the ability to monitor the border there.
“Border patrol is extremely frustrated because the way the fence is now, they are having to assign border patrol agents to just sit in all those openings because they're stuck (unfinished).”
He said last weekend he went to the Texas border, in McAllen, also called the Rio Grande, Valley Sector.
“That is now the epicenter of crossings at this point,” he said. “They've had just this year, they've had people from 56 different countries that they've apprehended just in that one area.”
How many people are crossing the border?
The number of people crossing has been very significant, Lankford said.
“What I was surprised to be able to see on Thursday night, when we went out late to see what happens on the border area overnight, was when you get up to the river and literally, in the pathways there — where you can see the well-worn path of where they do the crossings — the human traffickers would sit on the other side of the river.”
He said as his group walked up to it they were yelled at.
“They just started yelling and making fun of us, saying, 'Hey, friend, we're going to bring some people over and you can't stop us,'” Lankford said. “The border patrol said they do that every time they come up, and they know it's true.”
He said the border patrol told him they regularly get laughed at and mocked.
“At that area, they are actually sending across family units and individuals,” he said. “And they will send them in very large groups.”
He said when they do that, it takes so many border patrol personnel to be able to manage those, that it takes them off other areas of the border.
“What they've seen is, overnight, they'll get maybe 50 or 100 kids and families coming in one group across the river,” he said, “and then three miles upriver they will shoot 50 or 100 single adults across the other areas — with mostly men crossing there.”
Lankford said the cameras installed there can pick it up and can see all these men that are crossing, but they don't have personnel to be able to actually go in and intervene to stop it.
“So, single adults are getting across because they'll send over at the same time large groups of kids in other areas, and they're having a hard time being able to manage it,” he said.
What happens when families cross the border
Lankford said when family groups come across, if they've got at least one 6-year-old with them, then the entire family is allowed to be able to come into the country immediately.
“They're not detained at all,” he said.
Underneath a bridge there is a check-in area that has been set up.
“It looks like a hotel check-in area; it looks the same way,” he said. “They'll come across; they'll get a fingerprint of the adults that are in the group, the last name of everyone that's in the group, do a quick screening for health issues — but it's not really health tests, and certainly not COVID tests.”
Then they literally drive them down into downtown McAllen and drop them off, he said.
“It's about a two-hour process for those individuals,” he said. “So there's absolutely nothing slowing them down other than just taking down their name.”
Lankford said immigrants are told they have to show up at a hearing to be able to request asylum.
“That hearing date is about three years from now,” he said. “So, basically they can go wherever they want to in the country for the next three years.”
He said there's no idea if those folks will actually show up at the hearing or not.
“But that's the next touch that anyone has with those folks,” he said. “If they are an unaccompanied minor, 17-years-old and younger, they are taken to a facility in Donna, Texas.”
Comparing Biden, Trump border response
He said he went to see that facility. It's the same facility he visited in 2019 when it was first set up during a surge that happened during the Trump administration.
“I was astounded at how different it is now,” he said. He said one of the several pods he saw really stuck out to him.
“It was so crowded,” he said. “I asked one of the border patrol agents … how many was the pod designed for; he said 80,” he said. “I said how many are in this room right now? And they said 709.”
Those two agents are monitoring 709 kids that are really packed in shoulder-to-shoulder, he said, with no room to be able to move at all.
“That is just one of the facilities that the Biden team has not allowed the media to be able to get into until just (Tuesday), and finally allowed them to,” he said. “I understand why they don't want the media to be able to see it, because it is really horrific conditions.”
Health and Human Services is the next location for the youth when they leave it, he said.
“And what is happening is HHS is saying we don't have enough room, so we're not going to take anyone,” he said. “So, they're all just backing up at the border because they're just coming in the thousands each day.”
Lankford said Border Patrol has no place to be able to put people because there are so many coming.
“The change in policy that the Biden team has done, starting Jan. 2 — where they're allowing family groups to be able to just come across the border and check in, and then the quick release of individual kids, and then the way the border is overwhelmed — has all encouraged the movement of adults,” he said. “So, these folks are paying traffickers to be able to move them across the border,” he said. “The border patrol assured me there is no one that crosses the southern border from the south that is not paying a fee to the cartels.”
The cartels will make sure they pay the fee before they come across, he said.
“Traffickers are moving somewhere between $5,000 to $10,000 if you're moved from Central America; it may be $20,000 or more if you're Chinese or different nationalities,” he said. “Bangladeshis are paying more. There's a lot of money that's going into the cartels through this process.”
On top of that, it's a real human tragedy the way immigrants are being handled when they get into the U.S., he said.
For story ideas, questions or concerns, reporter Vicky O. Misa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.