Kinney County, Texas, is “under siege by illegal aliens and smugglers,” Sheriff Brad Coe testified Wednesday during a House committee hearing.
“The number of migrants seen on game cameras … , we’re averaging between 160 and 180 people per night that are going through the county unchallenged,” Coe said during the Homeland Security Committee’s hearing in McAllen, Texas.
“That comes out to roughly 60,000 people entered through my county this year,” Coe added during the hearing, which committee Democrats refused to attend.
Coe was one of five individuals to testify during the hearing, which focused on policies under Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and was titled “Failure by Design: Examining Secretary Mayorkas’ Border Crisis.”
Here are four takeaways from the House committee’s field hearing.
1. Operational Control of Border
Committee Chairman Mark Green, R-Tenn., questioned Raul Ortiz, chief of the U.S. Border Patrol, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security.
“Chief Ortiz, does DHS have operational control of our entire border?” Green asked.
“No, sir,” Ortiz responded.
Ortiz’s answer contradicts Mayorkas’ response to the same question about a year ago.
In April 2022, appearing before Congress, Mayorkas was asked by Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas: “Will you testify under oath right now, do we have operational control [of the border], yes or no?”
“Yes, we do,” Mayorkas responded.
The Secure Fence Act of 2006 defines operational control as “prevention of all unlawful entries into the United States, including entries by terrorists, other unlawful aliens, instruments of terrorism, narcotics, and other contraband.”
Green pressed Ortiz on the matter, asking whether he believes Mayorkas lied when he said the Department of Homeland Security has operational control of the border.
Ortiz didn’t answer directly, but again said “no,” that America doesn’t have operational control of the southern border.
2. ‘End Catch and Release’
In fiscal year 2022, Chris Cabrera, vice president of the union called the National Border Patrol Council, testified that about a million illegal aliens were “released into this country under either a notice to appear or paroled.”
Cabrera said that about another million illegal aliens were expelled from the United States in fiscal year 2022 under Title 42, a public health measure invoked during the COVID-19 pandemic that allowed the Border Patrol to quickly expel some illegal immigrants. Title 42 is set to expire in May, when the Biden administration officially ends the public health emergency.
“In addition to apprehensions we made, there were well over 1.2 million confirmed illegal immigrants that evaded capture in the last two years,” Cabrera told lawmakers, explaining that these individuals “got away simply because we didn’t have enough manpower to apprehend them.”
“To put this in perspective,” the union leader said, “the Rio Grande Valley [has] approximately 1.3 million people in the population. We had almost [an equivalent to] the entire population of this region escape just walk right into this country last year. If this isn’t the definition of a problem, I don’t know what is.”
The first step to end the “chaos on the border,” Cabrera added, is “we must end catch and release.”
“Catch and release” is the term used to describe the policy of allowing illegal aliens to wait in America for an asylum hearing instead of requiring them to wait outside the country until their hearing date arrives.
“As long as we continue to release illegal immigrants into this country, they will continue to come. It’s that simple,” Cabrera said.
3. Suicide Claims 17 Border Patrol Agents
“You’ve recognized the tremendous strain and pressure the border security situation has caused our personnel, and we have seen a rise in suicides,” Ortiz, the Border Patrol chief, said during his opening statement.
“Tragically, 17 CBP employees lost their lives to suicide in 2022,” he said, referring to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, parent agency of the Border Patrol.
Cabrera, the union leader, also commented on the increase in suicide among Border Patrol agents, explaining that they “see a lot of stuff out there that the average person doesn’t see.”
“I think that what hits most folks hardest is what happens with the children we see. We see a lot of young kids coming across—3, 4, or 5 years old, 7 years old—that are unaccompanied,” he said.
According to Cabrera, the Border Patrol’s task is being made more difficult by the fact that “we’re not put in the position to do the job that we were trained to do.”
In fiscal year 2022, which ended Sept. 30, Customs and Border Protection reported a record 2.3 million land encounters with migrants at the southern border. Since the start of fiscal year 2023, agents have encountered more than 1 million migrants at the border.
Because of the large influx of illegal aliens, agents have been pulled from the border to process asylum claims.
The Border Patrol’s message to Congress and the Biden administration?
“Let us work. Let us do our job,” Cabrera said.
4. Democrats Skip Hearing in ‘Political Stunt’
“Now, this was supposed to be a full committee, but as you can see, the Democrats are not here,” Green, the committee’s chairman, said as the hearing opened in McAllen.
“They decided to not show,” Green said of the 15 Democrats on the Homeland Security Committee. “Why? Well, they said coming here was just a political stunt. You tell me: taking a hearing to the point of the crisis for a firsthand view, or boycotting a hearing because … we’re going to shine a light on the truth.”
“Which of those is a political stunt?” he asked. “I’d say the political stunt is these empty chairs.”
“After careful consideration, committee Democrats have decided not to participate in the Republicans’ field hearing this week,” Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., ranking member of the panel, told the Washington Examiner.
“Unfortunately, it has become clear that Republicans planned to politicize this event from the start, breaking with the committee’s proud history of bipartisanship,” Thompson said. “Instead of a fact-finding mission to develop better border security and immigration policies, Republicans are traveling to the border to attack the administration and try to score political points with their extreme rhetoric—despite having voted against the resources [that] border personnel need.”
Democrats also opted out of the House Judiciary Committee’s field hearing on the border in Arizona last month.
At the time, Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., that committee’s ranking member, called the hearing a “stunt” and said there had been “no consultation with Judiciary Democrats.”
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