SAN ANTONIO – Three Texas lawmakers announced Thursday that they intend on introducing a bicameral, bipartisan bill that will address the growing number of migrants reaching the country’s southern border.
The Bipartisan Border Solutions Act introduced by Republican Sen. John Cornyn, Republican Rep. Tony Gonzales and Democrat Rep. Henry Cuellar would create four regional processing centers in areas where the number of migrants is high.
“The Border Patrol is overwhelmed at the border,” Cornyn said. “They’re taken offline in order to deal with the children and other challenges. And then you’ve seen just the sheer volume of migrants coming across in less than ideal circumstances.”
Cuellar said the situation on the border is something that needs to be addressed now.
“We’ve got to have a sense of urgency,” Cuellar said. “We can either just wait and just let the numbers just keep coming, or do we get a sense of urgency and do something? We’ve got to try something. We cannot just wait here and just look at what I call the input and the output.”
The four regional processing centers would house immigration judges who would hear asylum cases in a shorter amount of time.
“Infusing 150-plus immigration judges to the equation allows some immediate relief, some immediate processing in a manner that is in line with our legal system that gives every opportunity to vet claims,” Gonzales said. “It speeds it up -- we need people on the border and this situation. We need help today.”
“Under the Obama administration, under the Trump administration, it was difficult for them to understand because when we’ve added judges in the past, they move them to the cities where the people are released, and I think that’s backwards,” Cuellar said. “What we ought to do is put them at the border so we can have the day court. And if they have to be returned, they’re right there at the border.”
In addition to the processing centers, the bill would also prioritize cases involving unaccompanied minors held at shelters like the one at the Freeman Coliseum Expo Hall. It would also implement new protections for those children, such as regular follow-ups with sponsors, and prohibit people convicted of certain crimes, such as sex offenses, from caring for the children.
“We have concerns about the welfare of these children who are placed with sponsors, maybe not even a family member, and there’s no follow-up,” Cornyn said. “We want to make sure there’s additional vetting and additional follow-up to protect these children from people who mean to exploit them or do them harm.”
The lawmakers said the situation on the border has taken the Border Patrol away from handling other crimes while also putting a strain on their budgets.
“It creates a real hole in our border security system that is exploited by the drug smugglers and human migrant smugglers,” Cornyn said. “We lost 88,000 Americans to drug overdoses in the last 12 months. Ninety-two percent of the heroin that comes to the United States comes from Mexico. Obviously, methamphetamine, fentanyl that comes through Mexico -- so that’s the reason why we need to keep the Border Patrol on the front lines, providing for our national security. We need to get the children in a safe place where they can be held while they are being processed and perhaps have the ability to make any legitimate claim for asylum.”
“Border Patrol, once again, they need help today,” Gonzales said. “The Border Patrol agents are having to spend money out of their operational budget to currently run these soft-sided processing centers. I just visited one in Eagle Pass there. They told me an estimate of $25 million, a quarter, was coming out of their operational budget. That’s wrong. We got to find a solution to that.”