WASHINGTON, DC – This morning, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, delivered opening remarks at hearing on the nominations of Robert L. Santos to be Director of the U.S. Census Bureau and Ed Gonzalez to be Assistant Secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. In his opening statement, Portman highlighted the importance of the Census Bureau providing timely and accurate data to state and local governments that depend on it for federal funding and redistricting purposes.
Portman also stressed the need for ICE to work with state, local, and federal entities to address the worst crisis at our southern border that we’ve had in at least two decades. Portman has consistently made clear that the current crisis at the southern border is a direct result of the Biden administration’s dismantling of the previous administration’s policies with no consideration of the ramifications of removing those policies and how it would incentivize unlawful migration. In his remarks, he pointed out that since the Biden administration came into office, the numbers of unaccompanied children and all unlawful migrants have increased every month, while ICE arrests and deportations of migrants who do not receive asylum are at historic lows, which encourages more unlawful migrants to cross our southern border.
A transcript of his opening remarks can be found below, and a video can be found here.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman and thank you to Mr. Santos and Sheriff Gonzalez for your willingness to serve and for your statements today. The Census Bureau, Mr. Santos, as you know, provides a critically important service to our nation, and you talked about that in your opening statement. Census data supports activities all around the country. Businesses and nonprofits use Census data for planning. State and local governments use Census data to make spending decisions. The federal government distributes more than a trillion dollars a year based on Census data. So we’ve got to get it right. And then, of course, Census data supports the redistricting process, which is an essential part of our nation’s democracy and it is especially timely that the Census Bureau be more responsive with regard to this responsibility.
“The current delay in providing Census data for redistricting has negatively impacted a number of states in this country, and one of them is Ohio, that I represent. We’re very concerned about that because we’re trying to move forward with the redistricting process but we need to have the data. I’ve been assured by the Census Bureau that they have now agreed to provide redistricting data to Ohio by August 16. We cannot let that date slip. The Census Bureau must meet that deadline. Mr. Santos, I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this issue as well as your views on the many other challenges facing the Census Bureau.
“Sheriff Gonzalez, you and I discussed yesterday, the Director of ICE position is very important for a critical agency and deserves careful consideration by this Committee, which has oversight over the Department of Homeland Security. It’s particularly important today because, by any measure, we have the worst crisis at our southern border that we’ve had in at least two decades. The numbers are overwhelming. In May, more than 180,000 migrants were encountered at our southern border. June looks to be even higher from the preliminary data that we’ve been able to hear about.
“The number of migrants apprehended at the border has risen every single month since President Biden took office. We are told that more than 90 percent of those migrants are crossing unlawfully and dangerously, often between our ports of entry. Border Patrol agents also estimate, but generally do not report monthly, the number of migrants who evaded apprehension. I think they refer to people as ‘those who got away.’ This is a conservative estimate that likely undercounts the true numbers. But we are now seeing record estimates of those not apprehended at the southern border. Those who got away. In March and April of this year, the Border Patrol estimates 70,000 migrants evaded apprehension by its agents. We don’t know who these people are.
“I traveled to the southern border earlier this year. I was in El Paso, where I have been before. I watched families who were enrolled in the Migrant Protection Protocol, as one example, the MPP program. These are families who were in Mexico pending the adjudication of their asylum claim. Under the new administration, they were brought into the United States, I saw it, they were released into the country and an ICE officer personally described to me what the parole process is like, that I witnessed in real-time. Instead of giving these individuals a court date and saying, you know, ‘Your asylum claim is being adjudicated, you need to show up at this time at this place,’ what they said was, ‘We’re giving you a piece of paper,’ and I saw the piece of paper. The piece of paper simply had ICE offices listed on the back. And I said, ‘How will they know which ICE office they need to go to?’ And the answer was, ‘We don’t know where they are going, and we’re not suggesting where they go or certainly telling them where they go. They can go wherever they want in the United States and we’re just giving them these offices so when they end up where they end up, they’ll hopefully have an ICE office near them that they can go to.’ I was shocked because I was told that people were given a court date and told to go to court. That’s not what’s happening.
“So, you and I talked about this but I just think our system is broken and we’ve got to fix it, otherwise it will continue to be a pull factor. I was just in Ecuador – which, by the way, sends more migrants to our border than Honduras now – I was just in Guatemala, which of course is one of the three countries that has been traditionally sending the most women and children, unaccompanied kids in particular - El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras – and I heard the same thing which is, the leaders of these countries don’t want their young people going to the United States. They want them to stay there and build the future of that country. They don’t like the fact that we have a system in place that provides this pull where if you get to the border and claim asylum, you’re allowed, in the vast majority of cases – some say all, but let’s say the vast majority of cases – to simply come into the country. And if this is the protocol where you say you don’t even need to show up for a court date because we’re not even giving you one, we’re not even telling you where you need to go, I just don’t understand how that system is going to work.
“In 2019, we had a surge and it was largely unaccompanied kids, as you recall, because you were on the border and I know you understand this issue very well, but I’m told that ICE has returned virtually none of those unaccompanied kids. None of them. They’re all still here. And so it’s no wonder that the coyotes can go and exploit that situation and charge these families the kind of money that we can’t even imagine because, you know, for them $10,000 is not just their whole life savings, it’s their mortgage on their house, it’s everything they have. And then, unfortunately, many of these young children and their families are abused on their way to the border. It’s a dangerous situation even short of the desert crossing that’s often dangerous in and of itself, as you well know. And so it’s a system that’s not serving anyone well right now. So, I have very deep concerns about it, as you know.
“Anyway, I later checked in with ICE to ask them, by the way, where the migrants had gone who I had watched go through this process, who were told to check in with ICE, and ICE was unable to tell me exactly how many migrants have checked in with ICE to receive a court date. We have asked for this information repeatedly and we have been told it is simply not available. So we don’t know. As we all know, cooperation between federal, state, and local law enforcement is critically important to keep our nation safe. In 2017, Sheriff Gonzalez, you made a decision to end the department’s voluntary cooperation program with ICE. This voluntary compliance and the cooperation, known as the 287G program, has helped remove a lot of dangerous criminals from our communities. You have also stated that you still allow ICE to work inside the county jail but you have spoken out forcefully against the Texas law that mandated cooperation with ICE. So I am concerned, as you know, from our conversation about whether it would be appropriate for you to lead an agency that you’ve been so critical of.
“Even if the border crisis ended tomorrow, ICE will be dealing with the ramifications of this border crisis for many years to come. And as you have noted to me, a lot of people are coming to this country on visas and then overstaying their visas. So it’s not just about the border, it’s about ICE’s broader responsibilities.
“As I have said many times, we are a nation of immigrants, and we’re proud of that, and we welcome immigrants to this country in a legal, proper manner and we should. We’re a generous country and we should be, but we also have to have immigration laws that are clear, enforceable and allow people to come here legally, properly and in a humane way.
“Our Committee looks forward to hearing from both of you and thank you, again, for you willingness to serve.”