Lawmakers head to U.S.-Mexico border as Biden administration struggles to handle influx of migrants

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President Biden weighs in on if he’ll make a second run for presidency

The President talks about future political plans for himself and Vice President Kamala Harris, plus immigration and COVID-19.

USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – Groups of lawmakers are at the U.S.-Mexico border Friday, as the Biden administration continues to come under fire by both Republican and Democrats for the influx of migrants at the southern border.

Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, both of Texas, are leading a group of more than a dozen Republican senators to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. That area is seeing some of the largest numbers of migrants crossing into the United States.

The lawmakers received a briefing by officials on the situation at the border, are touring the Customs and Border Protection Facility in Donna, Texas, and taking a boat tour in Mission, Texas. The group also received a nighttime border tour by the National Border Patrol Council in Mission on Thursday.

Separately, Rep. Joaquin Castro, D- Texas, is leading a group of Democratic House members on a tour of the Carrizo Springs, Texas, temporary influx facility for children that is run by the Department of Health and Human Services.

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Republicans and Democrats have called the situation on the border a “crisis,” a term the White House has refused to use. President Joe Biden on Thursday said “a vast majority” of migrants coming to the U.S. are being sent back.

“If you take a look at the number of people who are coming, the vast majority, the overwhelming majority of people coming to the border and crossing are being sent back,” Biden said during a press conference. “Tens of thousands of people who are, who are over 18 years of age and single… have been sent back, sent home.”

An increased number of migrant children are being accepted into the United States, leading to overcrowding in short-term, jail-like facilities run by Customs and Border Protection, including in facilities in the Rio Grande Valley. 

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Children in U.S. custody at border seen sleeping on mats with foil blankets

The footage was released by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection as media has been denied access to border facilities.

Staff video, USA TODAY

The Biden administration has struggled to move children quickly out of those facilities and into those run by Health and Human Services, like the facility in Carrizo Springs. By law, children are supposed to be moved out of CBP facilities within 72 hours.

Biden announced Wednesday that Vice President Kamala Harris is taking the lead in mitigating migration at the border by working with Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

As of Thursday, Health and Human Services had 11,900 unaccompanied minors in its care, while another 5,156 children were in CBP custody.

More: Vice President Kamala Harris to lead White House efforts to stem migration at the border

The CBP facility in Donna, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley, has been heavily criticized for overcrowding. In photos released earlier this week by the Biden administration, children could be seen sleeping on mats on the floor, with foil blankets. 

No media has been allowed to visit the CBP facilities, with the administration citing COVID-19 restrictions. Cruz criticized the Biden administration in a letter earlier this week, saying requests for media access to the Donna CBP facility were ignored.

The senators accompanying Cruz and Cornyn to the Rio Grande Valley, where they will take a boat tour in Mission, Texas, includes:

  • Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.
  • Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.
  • Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa
  • Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine
  • Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
  • Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.
  • Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis.
  • Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah
  • Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.
  • Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont.
  • Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla.
  • Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska
  • Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.
  • Sen. John Kennedy, R-La.
  • Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss.
  • Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind.
  • Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala.

Lankford posted a video Friday morning from the Donna facility showing overcrowding, with children sitting or lying down with the foil blankets wrapped around them. The Biden administration has repeatedly said it istrying to quickly move children out of the facilities and noted that they are not made for children.

In Carrizo Springs, nearly four hours north of Donna, the facility houses several hundred unaccompanied migrant children. A second HHS facility in Carrizo Springs will open up to help transfer children out of CBP custody.

White House officials and members of Congress earlier this week traveled to the Carrizo Springs facility. One network, NBC, was allowed to tour with them.

Children wait in the HHS facilities while sponsors or family members are vetted, which could take days or weeks.

The lawmakers that accompanied Castro to the Carrizo Springs facility include:

  • Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif.
  • Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.
  • Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif.
  • Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif.
  • Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-Virginia
  • Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.

That group toured the Carrizo Springs facility for several hours, where they also spoke with children.

During a press conference following their visit, the lawmakers stressed the most important goal should be getting the children out of the facilities, and reunited with family members in the states.

HHS is trying to set up more temporary influx facilities, with the help of FEMA. Several new facilities will be located at the Freeman Expo Center in San Antonio and at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego. Castro noted that while conditions in the HHS facility are better than the CBP facilities, the lawmakers want the children to be quickly moved to be with their sponsors.

Castro did not comment on Cornyn and Cruz’s trip to the Rio Grande Valley, beyond saying, “I don’t know what their purpose is.” He added that he opened his trip to the Carrizo Springs facility up to lawmakers other than Democrats.

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., who fled civil war-torn Somalia with her family when she was 8 and spent four years in a refugee camp before moving to the U.S., said she saw herself in the children she talked to at the facility.

“I, myself, was a child who fled, like these kids, unconscionable violence,” Omar said.

When asked what message they would send to the president, the lawmakers said the immigrant-children “who are seeking help”, said they would tell Biden they are humans, too.

“‘I just want to be treated with dignity,’” Omar told reporters the children had said to her.

Reach Rebecca Morin at Twitter @RebeccaMorin_

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