Cornyn: Here's how we can end 'catch and release' on the border

Senator John Cornyn is touring the facilities set up to hold illegal migrants in Texas, specifically focusing on ones that hold unaccompanied minors. In Houston Tuesday he announced his intention to introduce a bill in the Senate that will deal with unaccompanied minors arriving at the southern border. The senator says there is bipartisan support for the legislation.

Cornyn made the announcement after touring a shelter for unaccompanied minors run by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. This is an undisclosed facility and Cornyn calls it the gold standard of such shelters. The senior senator from Texas met with children from Guatemala and Honduras as they were being tutored.

“There’s obviously a smaller number of children being helped here, and it’s a night and day difference. This again is what I consider to be the gold standard of (how) you’re going to have the current system,” Cornyn said while comparing the Houston facility to the one near the Texas-Mexico border.

It was a contrast, Cornyn said, to images journalists were able to capture at a migrant facility in Donna, Texas.

We know the horrendous situation in most holding facilities for illegal migrants, including the ones who house children, thanks to recent pictures released by Rep. Henry Cuellar. The surge at the southern border is so out of control that migrants are being held in extremely overcrowded facilities. Senators Cornyn and Cruz led a delegation of 18 senators last week to thank the border patrol agents working on the Rio Grande River and to tour the river to see firsthand the migrants and drug cartels taking advantage of the chaos on the border. They also toured the large facility in Donna, Texas that houses unaccompanied minors – the same facility that Cuellar’s photos came from. Thousands of children are packed into that facility.

Due to the overcrowding and a lack of personnel and resources to handle the flood of migrants, the Biden administration is now using a process known as catch and release – migrants are released from detention and given a date to return for a hearing by an immigration judge. However, in this current crisis, migrants are not even being given instruction for when to return. They are just released. This type of situation is ripe for exploitation, especially for children, who are being released to the custody of alleged family members or a guardian.

When spring recess for the senate is over in about two weeks, Cornyn will introduce legislation he says has bipartisan support. He is spending the time until then to get information on the ground, to see with his own eyes the conditions, and speak with those dealing with running the shelters. Children are being kept in shelters longer than the 72 hours hold time deadline as they wait for HHS to provide temporary housing or reunite them with family members. Cornyn’s legislation would allow unaccompanied children to immediately see an immigration judge if they have a valid asylum case. Asylum would be granted then instead of using catch and release. The key is to expedite the process.

“They understand that if they can make it here, they’ll probably get to stay here, and that’s an enormous pull factor that we need to balance out in order to make this a safer and humane process.”

Sen. Cornyn said U.S. Border Patrol agents are overwhelmed and illegal drug smugglers are taking advantage.

“When the border patrol is off the front line, the criminal organizations that smuggle people and smuggle drugs, then they have an opening,” Cornyn added.

The Biden administration, including Sleepy Joe and Kamala, like to say that their way is a more humane way of dealing with illegal immigration than how the previous administration handled the border. That is the logic of Washington, D.C. politicians who live in bubbles well outside of the reality on the ground. There is nothing humane about housing children in overcrowded shelters, sleeping on concrete floors, exposed to Covid-19, all because they are being exploited by adults who believed Joe Biden when he threw open the border after he was inaugurated. Children are being sent here without family because they know the Biden administration isn’t sending them back.

“I don’t think anybody in their right mind would think the status quo is acceptable. We need to find a way to humanely and legally allow immigration to occur,” he said. “But we can’t just put the welcome mat out for anybody and everybody in the world that wants to come to the United States because we’ll be overwhelmed and that’s what we’re seeing happening right now.

The bill is being built from “The Humane Act”, a bill Cornyn proposed in 2017 with Rep. Cuellar, a Texas Democrat. The bill failed to pass. It will tackle the root cause of the surges to the southern border, something Cornyn calls “the push factor”. This refers to the violence and poverty migrants are fleeing. Also, incentives for smugglers have to be eliminated. The Biden administration wants to focus on the reasons migrants come to the border, which has been the process for decades with many administrations, but the crisis is on the border now. The president & CEO of a nonprofit who was part of a closed-door round-table discussion with Cornyn at Catholic Charities Tuesday said, “Unfortunately, we have this group of politicians in Washington, D.C., that are using this as a circus.”

In order to have swift hearings with immigration judges while the children are at the facilities, the Flores decision that requires a limit of 72 hours to the holding time, will have to be considered.

A proposal for judges to hear their cases before being released from custody to U.S. communities would require a longer time frame at this time than what Flores allows. Immigration courts have a current backlog of 1.3 million cases, and Texas has more than 200,000 cases, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse that tracks immigration data.

“I’m working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to come up with policies that will give people an opportunity to have their hearing in front of an immigration judge while they’re still being processed” by immigration authorities, said Cornyn, rather than release them with a notice to appear as it is now.

Cornyn is not supporting immigration reform right now, as past efforts have failed. It is better to enforce current laws and use policies available to deal with the border. He expects to introduce the legislation when the spring break ends on April 11. Smaller legislation can take aim at specific problems. Besides the Houston and Donna facilities, Cornyn has visited Carrizo Springs and the Laredo border. He will tour the Midland migrant facility with Mayor Patrick Payton and County Judge Terry Johnson today.