On CNN, Portman Calls on Biden Administration to Address Ongoing Migrant Crisis at Southern Border

This afternoon on CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper, Senator Portman discussed his recent trip to the southern border in El Paso, Texas, where he witnessed firsthand the ongoing migrant and unaccompanied children crisis. 

Portman has made it clear that the Biden administration’s border crisis of unaccompanied children being detained at overcrowded Border Patrol stations is a direct result of its dismantling of the previous administration’s policies with no consideration of the ramifications of removing those policies and how it would incentivize migration. Portman urged the administration to change course soon and put in place smart policies that address the need for legal and orderly processes for migration and reduce the pull factors that encourage these migrant and young children to make the treacherous journey north, while also securing our borders and protecting the American people. He has proposed immediate adjudications for asylum claims for migrants at the border, allowing these unaccompanied children to apply for asylum in their home countries or safe third countries, and finally making the E-Verify system mandatory for all employers to address the economic magnet that pulls many migrants here. 

Excerpts on the interview can be found below and a video can be found here

PORTMAN ON HOW BORDER CRISIS WILL CONTINUE TO GET WORSE UNLESS BIDEN ADMINISTRATION ACTS:

“Well, immediately, we could go back to some of the policies that were working to keep these kids from making the dangerous journey north. In the mid-term, I think we ought to have immediate adjudications at the border, because this is about asylum claims, as you know. These kids are coming in in larger and larger numbers. I just got the information from the Border Patrol today that last week was worse than the week before, and, of course, much worse than the previous month, and much, much worse than last year so, unfortunately, it looks like Secretary Mayorkas is correct. This is going to be the worst illegal entry issue we’ve had in 20 years, maybe worse than that, so we’ve got to back up here. This is the predictable result, Jake, of dismantling old policies without putting new policies in place.” 

PORTMAN ON HOW IT’S INHUMANE TO INCENTIVIZE DANGEROUS TREK NORTH BY UNACCOMPANIED CHILDREN:

“That’s correct, but I think what was happening was, once the disincentive was in place, from what I learned when I was on the border, and what would be obvious, is the kids weren’t making the trek because they knew when they got to the border they wouldn’t be let in. And that was because of what is called Title 42, which was during the COVID-19 emergency, you know, the administration was able to do that. The current administration is doing that now with regard to adults and with regard to some families, we’re not sure if it’s most or all families, so it’s still being in place, but it’s not in place for kids. That’s the difference.

 “And look, Jake, we should have a policy that’s orderly, that’s legal, that gives these children the opportunity to make their claims on asylum. It should be done, as I said, quickly rather than the backlog now which, as you know, is 1.2 million people at least, so it’s several years before you get to your court case, and it’s just not a system that’s working, certainly not for these kids. I did see them crammed into these facilities. They were overcrowded. Instead of being six feet apart with social distancing they were, you know, inches apart, lying on the floor with foam mattresses -- not even mattresses, foam pads -- and space blankets so it’s a bad situation and it’s going to get worse. 

“He put the policies in place after the 2019 surge, but let me say this. I’ve been working on this issue now for four or five years and I totally agree with you that what was happening, the separation, was wrong and I had been speaking out publicly on that at the time. I also think that a lot of the way these kids have been treated is wrong and I did three investigations on this under the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of kids who were given to sponsors who then abused the kids. So HHS is the second detention facility these kids go into, the first one is Border Patrol, and then they go to a shelter run by HHS and then they’re given to a sponsor and some of these sponsors were not vetted. One of them took kids, you know, and exploited them on an egg farm in Ohio, which is how I got involved in the issue initially. 

“So, it’s a tough issue, let’s face it, but the reality is your definition of humane has to include not encouraging these kids to make this dangerous trek north and to separate themselves from their families because their families know that’s the only way they going to get in and then they can help to bring the rest of their family, perhaps. But it’s not a good system.” 

PORTMAN ON HOW TO DISINCENTIVIZE MIGRANTS FROM TRAVELING TO SOUTHERN U.S. BORDER:

“I’ve recommended three things. One is immediate adjudications at the border, which will be expensive, it will take us a little while to get it up and going. There were some pilot programs like this in the Trump years, very effective because, you think about it, it is the most recent migrant coming over that goes through this process. And so the next migrant who might think about it says, ‘Well I can’t go in the states for four or five years as I can now. I’ve got to be adjudicated right away.’ Only 15 percent of these cases are ultimately successful, because children and adults and families aren’t able to prove that they have this credible fear standard. Rather it’s an economic issue, which we all understand. So that would be, I think, a helpful deterrent. 

The second is to have these children apply in their home country or in a third country and the Biden administration agrees with that and they said they’re going to start a program that was stopped during the Trump years that would help do that. But it was 3,500 kids over five years. There are 3,500 kids coming across the border today, every nine days. So we have to deal with it in a more holistic way to tell these countries, ‘Please let these children apply for asylum in your country, or if not, if they have such a fear that they can’t do it in their own country, then in the third country.’ And that’s something that they had going on, started this in the Trump years. It was being implemented as to Guatemala. They have got to get that back. That was one of the things that was stopped shortly after the inauguration.” 

“I think there needs to be a recognition that so much of this is economic, and if we don’t have a good system to tell employers, ‘You can’t hire illegals,’ this is going to continue to happen, because ultimately that’s what this is about. And everybody I talk to on the border, all the migrants who are coming over who I got to visit with, and every migrant I’ve spoken to, practically, over the many years I’ve been working on this, they want to come to our country because it’s a better life for themselves and their family. We get that. 

“But if you can hire somebody illegally, which you can now because the so-called E-Verify system does not work well, you’re going to continue to have this magnet. So I think it needs to be a mandatory E-Verify, and the technology provided, particularly to small businesses, to be able to match documents so that you know the person is not using a fraudulent document. That would do more than probably anything else we’re talking about.” 

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