AUSTIN, Texas - Texas U.S. Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn visited the Texas-Mexico border Friday, a day after President Joe Biden pledged to address the influx of migrants crowding detention facilities at the border.
Senators Cruz and Cornyn led a tour with 17 other Republican senators along the border at McAllen—including a boat tour with the Texas Department of Public Safety Friday afternoon.
In the first news conference of his administration Thursday, Biden announced the U.S. will be working to quickly move migrant children and teens out of packed detention facilities. He announced steps such as opening up bed space at Ft. Bliss near El Paso for about 5,000 unaccompanied minors.
Sen. Cruz, who arrived in McAllen Thursday night, tweeted out a cell phone video early Friday morning, describing facilities that had to resort to using what he describes as outdoor holding pens.
"We've already gone to detention facilities that are overrun with families, small children, we saw multiple mothers who were nursing infant babies," Cruz said in the video.
Cruz claims he’s seen several smugglers on the other side of the border who are bringing people across.
"Our policy is when they smuggle them in, the Biden administration releases them, and more and more and more," Cruz said in the video. "This is a humanitarian crisis, it's a public health crisis, the immigrants who are being released, they're testing positive for COVID-19 at a seven-times higher rate than the American population, and it's a national security crisis."
Sen. Cornyn says he is working on legislation to cut down on the time it takes for asylum seekers to appear before an immigration judge. He blamed Biden administration policies in a press conference Thursday before heading to the border.
"This is a product I believe of two things, one is that the Biden administration simply eliminated the previous administration rules that were in place, and had no plans to replace them, and the impression that anybody who wants to come to the United States can do so," said Cornyn.
On Thursday, President Biden compared what’s happening at the border now to seasonal increases in migrants under previous administrations, and defended his decision to roll back Trump-era policies like separating children from their families and deporting unaccompanied minors seeking asylum.
"All the government officials tell us they are doing the best they can, but they're being overwhelmed by sheer numbers," said Cornyn following the border tour.
The senators said they met with border agents who explained how criminals take advantage of times when law enforcement is distracted with migrant families and unaccompanied minors.
"They cannot get ahead of this without policy changes in Washington, D.C. The smugglers, the drug runners, they understand our laws and they know how to exploit them to their benefit," Cornyn said.
The Republican congressmen also toured a temporary processing facility near the border that is far overcapacity and, they said, unable to implement COVID-19 safety measures.
"We saw cages after cages after cages of little girls and little boys lined side-by-side, touching each other, covered with reflective emergency blankets. There was no six-foot space, there was no three-foot space, there wasn't a three-inch space between the children lined up one after the other, after the other," said Cruz.
While Republicans were in McAllen, seven Democrat U.S. representatives visited a refugee resettlement facility at Carrizo Springs. Their goal was to bring back ideas to the president so the U.S. can improve the asylum process.
Democrats said the best way to do so is to speed up asylum claims and place unaccompanied minors with family sponsors in the U.S. more quickly, so they are not stuck in processing facilities. "I think all of us would agree that the pictures we have seen from the CBP facilities, as they've often been now and in the past, are horrendous. And that nobody should be kept in those conditions. Those are awful conditions," said U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas).
Biden says the U.S. is working to move unaccompanied minors out of those holding facilities. He is opening up 5,000 beds at Fort Bliss to help shelter them. However, Republicans and Democrats have very different ideas about who's to blame for the current situation.
"This is inhumane, it is wrong and it is a direct consequence of policy decisions by the Biden administration to stop building the wall, and return to catch and release, and to end the stay in Mexico policy," said Cruz.
"President Biden inherited a situation where the previous administration had sought to dismantle the infrastructure for processing asylum-seekers and settling asylum-seekers in the United States," Castro said.