BY MICHAEL S. JOHNSON | AUG 23, 2021
Part I of II
“A couple of days ago I was down in Mexico and I said look, you know, if, if our borders are the first line of defense, we’re going to lose and this is unsustainable…We can’t continue like this, our people in the field can’t continue and our system isn’t built for it.”
Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of Homeland Security, quoted from a leaked tape recording of a private meeting with border patrol agents in Texas, August 12, 2021
You have to appreciate the Secretary’s candor, even if in private. While he has intimated as much in his public statements after touring the border, this is the most honest assessment we’ve had from anyone in the Biden Administration.
While the White House grapples with the unmitigated disaster unfolding in Afghanistan it should also not diminish the priority of dealing with another unfolding disaster on our southern border.
It’s about time that someone senior in the Administration said what most Americans have known for a long time. The President and his underlings, including the Secretary and a good many progressive members of Congress, have been in public denial about the chronic crisis on our border. The propaganda, the almost comical prohibitions against the use of certain words in describing events there, the refusal to support enforcement of our immigration and criminal laws have gone on long enough.
The crisis is real, and it is much more than an immigration crisis. It is truly a humanitarian crisis in all its cruelty and heartbreak. It is hard to hide the gruesome realities. It has been growing like a cancer for many years and is now so entrenched that our political and governmental processes may be too weak and too divided to fix it. Look at the numbers, watch the videos, read between the lines, and listen to people all across the country, where, as Florida Congresswoman Kat Cammack put it, “every town is a border town now.”
The statistics don’t humanize the crisis very well, but they do frame the picture and define its severity:
- Immigration officials recorded 200,000 unauthorized crossings in July alone, compared to 188,000 in June. A year ago, the number was 40, 929. In all of 2018, total apprehensions were 521,000. In 2019 there were 900,000.
- There were 20,000 apprehensions in just the Rio Grande Valley last month.
- Of the total in July, 52 percent were single adults. The rest were families or unaccompanied juveniles.
- More than 59,000 migrants came from countries outside Mexico and Central America. There were 7,000 from Venezuela in one month.
- A total of 95,788 of the July influx were deported under what is called the Title 2 public health protections, which permit the government to remove those who present a health hazard.
- In the first week in August, 830 unaccompanied migrant children were caught in just one day. The average per day has been 512.
- There are currently more than 17,000 migrant children in US custody.
- The Administration releases children into the custody of parents and guardians. 830, 612 were released.
- The constant waves of illegal immigration are overwhelming courts. A total of “1.3 million people are currently awaiting deportation decisions…and the average case has been pending for nearly three years…A decade ago just 300,000 cases were pending and even three years ago it was fewer than 770,000,” wrote Stephen Dinan in the Washington Times.
- According to Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar 50,000 (another source put it at 60,000) migrants who crossed illegally have been released in the US without a court date just since last March. Only 13 percent have reported to an Immigration and Customs Service (ICE) office as required.
These numbers are also adding to the dread of the pandemic. Thousands of immigrants are being released into the US population carrying the coronavirus. More than 18 percent of migrant families and 20 percent of unaccompanied minors tested positive for COVID-19 as they left Border Patrol custody in just a three-week period in August, according to NBC accounts.
“Six thousand immigrants in ICE custody have so far declined to be vaccinated,” according to CBS on August 13. “In the past six weeks, ICE has reported over 5,000 new coronavirus cases among detainees…”
But again, this cascade of statistics is after all just numbers. They are often confusing and sometimes contradictory. More importantly, they can’t tell the whole story because they are frigid and faceless.
The real crisis at the border and now across the country is the story of real people, millions of children and adults. They range from infants to teens, mothers, and fathers trying to escape economic hardship, political tyranny, and no future in their homeland; seeking the promise of opportunity, work, education, and reunification with friends and family in the US. But for too many, that is not how their journey ends.
Dinan, one reporter who has been dogged and objective in his coverage of the crisis introduced us last April to a 15-year-old who was badly treated and exploited when sent to a temporary home in Chicago. She was housed in a room with 20 others, given a fake ID, and put to work in a cold sandwich factory with her father. How many face her fate is unknown.
Many live in squalor or in overcrowded pens waiting for someone to decide their fate. Many have paid thousands of dollars to smugglers and have nothing left. Women have been raped along the way and children have been abused or become sick or worse yet, drowned in the unforgiving Rio Grande. Families have been separated and children have been coerced into becoming part of fake families.
The faces of the crisis are also the faces of evil, the faces of smugglers, drug traffickers, violent gang members, and criminals of all stripes exploiting the gaping holes in our border. Some have been allowed to roam free under sanctuary policies that prevent local law enforcement from notifying ICE of the release of suspects who the agency wants to detain.
They have included Garcia Zarate who had been deported five times previously and had multiple felony convictions. After he was released under sanctuary policies he shot and killed 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle while she was walking with her father along a San Francisco pier. He was acquitted of murder, claiming the shooting was accidental. Even if it was, Kathryn would still be alive if he hadn’t been allowed to get back in this country in the first place.
Another was Carlos Carillo-Lopez, who had three prior arrests. He was released in Bellevue, WA, again under sanctuary policies and sought membership in a gang by joining a posse that purposefully went after and killed a 14-year-old rival gang member.
There are an estimated 11 states and more than 300 units of government across the country that have policies limiting or prohibiting cooperation with ICE and other immigration agencies. They include Fairfax County in Virginia and Montgomery County in Maryland, where in just one month in 2019, according to the Washington Times, “six illegal immigrants were arrested for different sexual offenses, ranging from molestation to sexual assault at knifepoint. One of the victims was 11 years old.” There are apparently thousands of immigrants in the US with criminal records.
The statistics also don’t tell the stories of countless residents of border towns across the Southwest who have tolerated the unrelenting influx of thousands of immigrants in need. They are the property owners who can’t sleep for fear of being harmed or their property vandalized by those immigrants escaping border agents. They are the local citizens whose volunteer agencies and medical facilities are stretched well beyond their capacity. Laredo, TX Mayor Pete Saenz said his town can’t handle the pressure of the pandemic. He told the Time’s Dinan this month that “It’s gotten to the point now that any other population that comes into our community is truly, truly fighting for a bed in the city of Laredo.”
The crisis can also be seen in the faces of border patrol agents, customs, Homeland Security, HHS, and countless workers who are overwhelmed, underpaid, ill-equipped, unappreciated, and exposed to all sorts of illness, including the deadly Delta virus. “Scabies, chickenpox—we had one case of the mumps here in Uvalde. I wanna say we had measles—plenty of the flu, plenty of colds, body lice, just assorted. And some of these things, they spread like wildfires when you get into cramped holding cells. It happens,” Jon Anfinsen of the National Border Patrol Council vice president, told the Washington Examiner in June 2021.
Maybe I paint a picture too dark and foreboding.
However, it easily balances out with liberal media that suppress coverage or acquiesces to the Biden Administration’s blatant propaganda it calls a ‘fact-sheet’ claiming it “has made considerable progress to build a fair, orderly, and humane immigration system…” while “reckoning with the prior Administration’s cruel and reckless immigration policies…and (which) failed to securely manage our border.”
I didn’t concoct the statistics, nor did I include so many more that paint the same picture. They come from government agencies and solid news reporting from both conservative and legacy media who have not acquiesced to the Administration’s Pollyannaish propaganda, as so many of their colleagues have, or worse, deliberately ignored the harsh realities of the border.
It is tragic that one of the most critical problems we face in this country is treated with such delusional, unwitting indifference, not just by the media and the government. It is reflected as well in the absence of public outrage. Maybe a leaked tape recording exposing the Homeland Security secretary’s real thoughts will change all of that.
Editor’s Note: Mike Johnson is a former journalist, who worked on the Ford White House staff and served as press secretary and chief of staff to House Republican Leader Bob Michel, prior to entering the private sector. He is co-author of a book, Surviving Congress, a guide for congressional staff, co-founder and member of the Board of the Congressional Institute, and a participant in the Congress of Tomorrow congressional reform project. Johnson is retired. He is married to Thalia Assuras and has five children and four grandchildren.