April 19, 2021

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Lawmakers head to U.S.-Mexico border as Biden administration struggles to handle influx of migrants

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WASHINGTON – Groups of lawmakers are at the U.S.-Mexico border Friday, as the Biden administration continues to come under fire by both Republican and Democrats for the influx of migrants at the southern border.

Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, both of Texas, are leading a group of more than a dozen Republican senators to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. That area is seeing some of the largest numbers of migrants crossing into the United States.

The lawmakers received a briefing by officials on the situation at the border, are touring the Customs and Border Protection Facility in Donna, Texas, and taking a boat tour in Mission, Texas.

In addition, Rep. Joaquin Castro, D- Texas, is leading a group of Democratic House members on a tour of Carrizo Springs, a temporary influx facility for children that is run by the Department of Health and Human Services.

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Republicans and Democrats have called the situation on the border a “crisis,” a term the White House has refused to use. President Joe Biden on Thursday said “a vast majority” of migrants coming to the U.S. are being sent back.

“If you take a look at the number of people who are coming, the vast majority, the overwhelming majority of people coming to the border and crossing are being sent back,” Biden said during a press conference. “Tens of thousands of people who are, who are over 18 years of age and single… have been sent back, sent home.”

An increased number of migrant children are being accepted into the United States, leading to overcrowding in short-term, jail-like facilities run by Customs and Border Protection, including in facilities in the Rio Grande Valley. 

The Biden administration has struggled to move children quickly out of those facilities and into those run by Health and Human Services, like the facility in Carrizo Springs. By law, children are supposed to be moved out of CBP facilities within 72 hours. 

Biden announced Wednesday that Vice President Kamala Harris is taking the lead in mitigating migration at the border by working with Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

As of Thursday, Health and Human Services had 11,900 unaccompanied minors in its care, while another 5,156 children were in CBP custody.

More:Vice President Kamala Harris to lead White House efforts to stem migration at the border

The CBP facility in Donna, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley, has been heavily criticized for overcrowding. In photos released earlier this week by the Biden administration, children could be seen sleeping on mats on the floor, with foil blankets. 

No media has been allowed to visit the CBP facilities, with the administration citing COVID-19 restrictions. Cruz criticized the Biden administration in a letter earlier this week, saying that requests for access for media to the Donna CBP facility were ignored.

The senators accompanying Cruz and Cornyn to the Rio Grande Valley, where they will take a boat tour in Mission, Texas, includes:

  • Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.
  • Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.
  • Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa
  • Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine
  • Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
  • Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.
  • Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis.
  • Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah
  • Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.
  • Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont.
  • Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla.
  • Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska
  • Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.
  • Sen. John Kennedy, R-La.
  • Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss.
  • Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind.
  • Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala.

Lankford posted a video Friday morning from the Donna facility showing overcrowding, with children sitting or lying down with the foil blankets wrapped around them. The Biden administration has repeatedly said it istrying to quickly move children out of the facilities and noted that they are not made for children.

In Carrizo Springs, nearly four hours north of Donna, the facility houses several hundred unaccompanied migrant children. A second HHS facility in Carrizo Springs is going to open up to help transfer children out of CBP custody.

White House officials and members of Congress earlier this week traveled to the Carrizo Springs facility. One network, NBC, was allowed to tour with them.

Children wait in the HHS facilities while sponsors or family members are vetted, which could take days or weeks.

The lawmakers accompanying Castro to the Carrizo Springs facility include:

  • Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif.
  • Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.
  • Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif.
  • Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif.
  • Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-Virginia
  • Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.

Reach Rebecca Morin at Twitter @RebeccaMorin_

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