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Chairman Graham Prepared Hearing Remarks: “Oversight of Customs and Border Protection’s Response to the Smuggling of Persons at the Southern Border”

Prepared Opening Remarks

Senator Lindsey O. Graham

Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee

For a hearing entitled

“Oversight of Customs and Border Protection’s Response to the Smuggling of Persons at the Southern Border”

Wednesday, March 6, 2019


Commissioner McAleenan, Mr. Ballard, Mr. Fisher, and Dr. Linton, welcome. Thank you for being here today to discuss the important topic of the crisis at our southern border.

 I also want to express my appreciation to my Democratic colleagues on the committee for requesting we hold this hearing.  It’s an important topic and one which deserves our full attention.  I also want to express my appreciation to President Trump who has continued to talk about this problem and has made border security a top priority.   

 First, I want to be clear – the death of any child is tragic.  I truly feel for any parent who has lost a child.  I cannot imagine the grief and anguish they must feel.  I want them to know they are in my prayers.

 I look forward to reviewing the reports from the Homeland Security Inspector General and the Office of Professional Responsibility on CBP’s handling of these two Guatemalan children. As far as I can tell, there has been no evidence whatsoever suggesting CBP mishandled the situations. I hope the Commissioner today will reaffirm CBP’s commitment to treating all they encounter with dignity and care.

 I also understand that Customs and Border Protection has a job to do and that is to protect our nation and its citizens.  With record numbers of illegal migrants crossing each year, we are facing a crisis at our southern border.  And these CBP agents are our first line of defense.  

 There is no doubt that we face unprecedented border security and humanitarian challenges today at our southern border. 

 And I want to be direct – contrary to what some political opponents and media outlets claim the situation at our southern border is dangerous and growing worse.  It’s not a hoax.  It’s not a manufactured crisis.  It’s not a cable television ploy. 

 It is real.  It is serious.  It is a threat.  And it poses a direct challenge to the safety and security of the citizens of the United States.  To believe otherwise is to deny reality and ignore the facts. 

 Here are the facts from the first 5 months of this fiscal year.  We are witnessing:

  • An almost 55% increase in the number of unaccompanied minors apprehended at the border over the same time period last year.
  • An almost 340% increase in the number of family units apprehended from same time period last year.

And the costs to the American taxpayer are very real – and expensive. According to January 2019 data:

  • The cost to the American taxpayer of an Unaccompanied Alien Child (UAC) is $375 per day.
  • The cost per UAC per year is $136,875.
  • As of January 4, 2019 there were 11,981 children in HHS care at a cost to the American taxpayer of more than $1.6 billion a year. 

 It is no coincidence that these two groups – unaccompanied minors and family units – are crossing the border at an alarming rate.  Our immigration laws require that both unaccompanied children and family units be released into the interior of the United States after apprehension.

This is due to two legal loopholes in our immigration system: the Flores settlement agreement and the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA). Flores requires children (or those with children, so family units) to be released after 20 days in custody.  The TVPRA requires unaccompanied alien children from non-contiguous countries (countries that do not border the United States) to be released to Health and Human Services care facilities instead of being sent back to their countries of origin.

I have worked for over a decade to fix our nation’s broken immigration system.  If we do not fix these two legal loopholes, then we are only continuing to fuel the smuggling of persons trade from the Northern Triangle.  These laws incentivize smugglers to exploit migrants who seek to come to the United States and stay.  They know our legal system better than many of us, and they profit greatly off the most vulnerable.  Smugglers don’t care how they do their job, or whether migrants are raped, tortured, or starved on the journey.  They care about making a profit.  Last year, smugglers made $2.5 billion smuggling migrants.

I know from my own personal experience dealing with this issue that we will not have the necessary ‘buy-in’ from the American people for a solution dealing with illegal immigrants already in the United States if we cannot convince the public we have the ability to stop future waves of illegal immigration.

The current chaos at our southern border must be dealt with.  Americans want an immigration policy that we control, not one where illegal immigrants control us.

Finally, I want to make this point clear – the Border Patrol, along with their colleagues at ICE, are the good guys.  They are protecting our nation and our citizens.  They are putting their lives on the line against drug cartels, coyotes, and violent criminals.

Are there some areas the Border Patrol and ICE could improve on?  Of course.  That is what today’s hearing will touch upon.  There is not one agency in the entire federal government that is perfect.  

But as a general rule the vast, vast majority of Border Patrol and ICE agents are doing the job we hired them to do and doing it in a manner which makes us safer.  I for one appreciate their service and I think it is imperative we acknowledge the good work they do on behalf of a grateful nation.