During U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker’s one-night trip to the U.S.-Mexico border, he felt sadness for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers and migrants staying in detention facilities.
“It was just this overwhelming sense of, ‘It’s up to us to fix this,’ ” he said Monday in his Lancaster city district office. “We’ve got to get it done.”
Smucker co-led 14 members of the Problem Solvers Caucus on a trip Friday to the border city of McAllen, Texas. The bipartisan caucus, consisting of 24 Republican and 24 Democratic members of Congress, has tasked itself with finding solutions to some of the country’s most pressing problems. Immigration, members agree, is one of them.
“I’m one who felt shame today. Shame about the failure of the leadership in both houses of congress, Democrat and Republican, in the White House — not just this one,” Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minnesota, said Friday at a news conference.
The caucus members visited several places along the border, including an intake facility, a family detention center, the Hidalgo port of entry and a nonprofit long-term home for teenage boys who came unaccompanied across the border. Other Pennsylvania lawmakers have recently visited the border, too, including U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., last week.
Smucker said it was important for Problem Solvers Caucus members to visit the border to see the problems firsthand.
Here are three things Smucker took away from his visit to the border.
Migrant facilities are overcrowded.
After speaking to “dozens” of agents and migrants, it is clear to Smucker that the facilities taking in migrants were “never intended to house that many people.”
Overcrowding sets up border patrol agents for failure because they do not have the necessary resources and space to care for the migrants, he said. Agents now spend about 60% of their time acting as caregivers, which takes away from their law enforcement duties.
Smucker characterized the migrants he encountered as generally “well taken care of.” He said he saw children participating in recreational wrestling in one facility, and a little girl offered him a chip through the links of one of the fences.
The detention centers were similar to those pictured in national news reports, with fencing to detain people and emergency thermal blankets to keep them warm in the indoor facilities.
Border security is a priority for Smucker “now more than ever.”
While touring an intake facility, the delegation saw a bassinet with a 10-month-old boy inside. The infant arrived with a man who was not his relative, so immigration officials took the child into agency custody.
The infant’s situation is an instance of what Smucker called “incentives” for people to come to the border with children, because the law says agents can’t turn away people who come seeking asylum with a child. This stokes border agents’ fears that people are being trafficked into the U.S., leading to more family separations.
“We have to have operational control of the border. We can’t let this situation go,” Smucker said. “We have to control that flow. And people have to stand in line and do it legally.”
Congress must respond to calls to action from the border patrol — and listen to border agents’ ideas.
Smucker said he asked one border agent about the specific kind of help agents need to lessen their load.
The agent said the asylum process should require people to apply for asylum at their countries’ embassies, instead of once they get to America — an idea that is gaining traction nationally.
The Problem Solvers Caucus will discuss its findings in the coming weeks and months and propose a solution to the immigration crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, Smucker said.