Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) spoke on the Senate floor Thursday about the ongoing crisis at the Southern border. Here are her remarks:
Our border is strained to the breaking point. There is a real humanitarian crisis escalating, with people being stranded in the desert without food or water, at 100 degree weather in summer.
At the same time, ICE faces mounting challenges on expediting deportations. Abuse and exploitation of the asylum process overburdens our court system, as migrants flood our borders claiming persecution. Our country historically welcomes people fleeing political persecution, but there must be tighter rules on asylum seekers. I welcome President Trump’s moves to raise the standards.
Last week the President directed the Department of Homeland Security to enact several new asylum changes. As part of these new policies, the President imposed a new deadline for the immigration courts to meet. He directed that cases in immigration courts be settled within 180 days. Tennesseans want to see government accountability, and a six month deadline is exactly the accountability the government needs. Right now there are more than 800,000 cases pending. But there are only about 400 immigration judges. When you do the math, that comes out to about 2,000 cases per judge. That brings the average wait time for a case to be resolved to almost two years. Two years! The process takes so long that some migrants abandon the process and end up trying to stay in the U.S. illegally.
During our Judiciary Committee hearing yesterday, ICE described the backlog and shortage of judges. Even if enough judges are hired to hear these cases, it will takes months—perhaps even up to a year—for them to get staffed up and trained to hear these immigration cases. Closing legal loopholes in the asylum process brings us one step closer to closing our borders to this flood of migration. Giving ICE the resources to staff up with enough judges to hear cases is the next step.
Drugs keep pouring across our borders, causing addiction and killing thousands more through overdose. Just this past January, CBP seized the largest amount of fentanyl in the agency’s history. Officials seized nearly 254 pounds in fentanyl from a Mexican national trying to enter the U.S. This was enough to kill more than 115 million people. Then there is the human trafficking. Traffickers of migrant children take advantage of loopholes in our verification systems. Many adult sponsors seeking custody of these children came here illegally, and we don’t know if they are actually the child’s relative or a criminal with links to a prostitution ring.
But DHS and HHS are taking steps to close some loopholes. Last April, the two agencies entered into an agreement to ensure that relatives of these children are not above the law. Under the agreement, DHS and HHS promise to share information about adult sponsors, so ICE can run criminal and immigration background checks on them. This agreement is a powerful tool in the fight to stop trafficking of migrant children. So long as law enforcement can keep running these criminal background checks on those sponsors, we can hold adults accountable and keep children safe.
Finally, the wall. Border Patrol Chief Provost told me during the hearing yesterday that the wall is working. San Diego is home to one of the first sections of a new wall that could serve as a prototype for other walls. This 14-mile section features double fencing. Before the old walls were 6 feet high and made out of landing mats. Now, the new walls rise up 30 feet and stand on steel bollards. This barrier is making it tougher for illegal immigrants to sneak across, and it is helping agents secure our border.
Our immigration system is full of legal loopholes and physical vulnerabilities. I applaud the President’s new asylum changes. And I urge my colleagues to support law enforcement’s needs. They are consistent in asking for three things: barriers, technology and agents. They have asked for, and they should get, these resources needed to shorten the immigration court backlog, to pay for more detention beds, and to hire more agents to combat drug smuggling and human trafficking.