Something must be done. A policy crisis has turned into a security crisis, and now a humanitarian crisis. In February, there were over 76,000 apprehensions at our southern border. This is nearly double the average monthly number (41,735) during the last five years. Additionally, the percentage of people apprehended with their families has dramatically increased. In 2006, only 10% of those apprehended were members of family units and unaccompanied minors; now, we are at 60%.
Our policy of releasing families into the United States has dramatically increased the number of family units and unaccompanied minors coming into our country illegally.
"This migrant situation is called a 'crisis,' but that word is overused," CNN Anchor Chris Cuomo told viewers on Monday. "It doesn't do the situation justice."
According to the Department of Homeland Security, there were about 32,000 family units and unaccompanied alien children apprehended in December of last year. This is over 2 1/2 times the average for fiscal year 2017.
Why are these numbers rapidly increasing?
Because the current policy does not work. Families apprehended can be held for no more than 20 days. According to Border Patrol Deputy Chief Patrol Agent Raul Ortiz, whom Cuomo interviewed, this limitation is incentivizing more migrants to cross our borders illegally. "We apprehend, we process, and we turn them over to the other agencies that are out there," said Ortiz. Cuomo responded: "So, it's a domino effect. You can only keep them 20 days ... You got to let them go. That gets perceived as weakness. Now you're doing catch and release again." This drives up the number of migrants who, once they cross the border, look to surrender to a Customs and Border Patrol agent.
Additionally, while we want to help asylum seekers, migrants have learned to work the system, according to Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen. "Many of the people coming are economic migrants," she told Fox News' Tucker Carlson on Tuesday. "They are not truly seeking asylum. We want to help those who are, but many of them have been given magic words to come in."
The current process allows those who come across to be released until they are processed either through an immigration court or by review for potential asylum.
According to acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Ronald Vitiello, we have released 125,000 family units into the United States since December. Once they are released, they are supposed to show up in court to be properly processed. According to Vitiello, most don't show up for their court appearance.
What we are seeing is not just a security crisis for our country but also a crisis for those crossing illegally. The journey is dangerous. According to DHS, one-third of the women who make the trip are sexually assaulted along the way.
And children are also subject to abuse. Nielsen said that DHS has broken up rings of smugglers who recycle children. Smugglers use them to pose as part of a family whose heads of household are seeking asylum. Once the group is released into the United States, the smugglers arrange for the children to be returned to Mexico to cross again — as part of another family unit.
The practice results in more than people getting across the border illegally. Almost 90% of the heroin that comes in to our country does so through the southern border. And fentanyl smuggling has doubled in the past year, with Customs and Border Protection agents seizing 254 pounds in a single case in January, enough to kill more than 115 million Americans, investigators told The Arizona Republic. These drugs are killing our people.
President Donald Trump has been talking about securing the southern border since the 2016 election, but legislators have yet to take action. First, they have to acknowledge the crisis.
In January, when Trump attempted to negotiate a solution to the crisis at the southern border with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the Democrats brushed aside any talk of a crisis. Instead, Schumer chastised Trump, accusing him of talking up the border issue in an attempt "to manufacture a crisis, stoke fear and divert attention from the turmoil in his administration."
I hope the Democrats will agree that this is a real crisis and take real steps to fix it. We can't fix the humanitarian problem — or the security problem — without changing our operational policy.
To find out more about Jackie Gingrich Cushman, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.