Last month, I traveled to Texas to review the crisis at our southern border with Mexico. I was able to visit the same immigration centers in McAllen, Texas, that the President has visited, the same facilities our Congressmen visited in recent weeks.
After decades of ignoring illegal border crossings at our Southern border, it becomes quickly evident we have entered a new era. The Cartels are sophisticated, high-tech operations. And they are as horrific and brutal as they are efficient. They behead and torture and rule the border through fear. The drug cartels, who at one time were satisfied with the profits from the sale of drugs, have discovered that human trafficking is far more lucrative. While they are still supplying the U.S. with 60 to 70 percent of the illegal drug market, they are now raking in a shocking $53 million each week trafficking humans and drugs across the border.
Cartels extort money from the young, the troubled, the hungry, promising a safe trip and a better life across the border. Instead, many are severely abused along the way, and they arrive hungry, thirsty and in poor health. If they are not picked up by border police, they are locked in deplorable, unsanitary conditions and given a phone to make one call. They are told to call home, tell their loved ones they need to double the funds they paid, or else they will be become a sex slave.
The Rio Grande Valley is one of the most porous locations for illegal immigration. The State of Texas spends $400 million each year trying to assist ICE agents in a partnership to police our borders where illegal immigrants are pouring over the border, often at a rate of over a 1,000 a day. The largest number of detainees received in one day reached over 2,400 just this year. The system is overwhelmed.
Our State and Federal employees are experts at compassionate care. Each detainee is immediately given a health screening before being placed in the processing facility. If there are any health problems that need to be addressed, they are taken to the hospital. All detainees are given water, food, showers and clean clothing. If we can determine an identity, we do a background check. Five to 7 percent of those who arrive every day have past criminal records.
The compassionate care and respect I saw towards each immigrant being processed should make Americans proud. I walked through the “unaccompanied children” unit and the “parent with children” unit. One cannot visit a processing facility without walking out forever changed. I am thankful that the ICE agents and the Texas Guards treat the migrants as victims of the Cartels, which they are. I am also thankful that non-profits all over the nation have stepped up to help care for the migrants. I still cannot shut my eyes without looking into the eyes of the unaccompanied children, who had no one to talk to, who were all scared and lonely, yet took the risk to leave whatever circumstances they were in behind, to come to America seeking a better life.
For Congress to continue to ignore the problem is the human tragedy, a crime to our humanity and an insult to voting, caring Americans. President Trump is right. We must build a wall. A wall sends the signal to the world we will no longer allow illegal entry into our Country. It is a symbol: Don’t cross. A wall makes the current treacherous path followed impossible. In the helicopter I viewed the beginnings of the wall. My escort said, “here is where the wall ends. Here is where chaos starts.”
We must also reform our broken legal immigration system. We need to change the law and allow more legal work visas. We need to allow those who share our values and who seek freedom to work in America, but in return those immigrants would not be eligible for welfare benefits. Workers at the border said the Federal judge that limited detention to 20 days made their jobs much more difficult. Criminals cross the border with fake identities. It is impossible to check backgrounds in the 20 day time restriction.
Americans should demand that Congress take up debate on immigration. The package they pass must contain the total funding needed for a wall and border security to stop the cartels, along with the implementation of legal work visas. Anything short deserves a veto from our President, who has also seen what I have seen, the humanitarian crisis at the border.
Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, is the Kansas Senate president.