Portman Visits Southern Border, Sees Humanitarian and Immigration Crisis and Calls for Bipartisan Action

July 13, 2019 | Press Releases

WASHINGTON, DC – Yesterday, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) joined a delegation led by the Senate Judiciary Committee to visit the southern border. They were joined at the border by Vice President Mike Pence. The delegation toured the new Donna Processing Facility where families and unaccompanied children are being processed, and the McAllen Border Patrol Station, where single men and the women are being processed. He toured the facilities and spoke to officials and migrants, and attended a roundtable discussion with Border Patrol agents and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) leadership on the ground. He released the following statement:

It should now be clear to everyone that we have a crisis on our southern border. This trip reinforced for me that the situation is dire and Congress needs to take bipartisan action now to alleviate the crisis. I saw how the system is being overwhelmed and how important it is to provide funding immediately for humanitarian assistance. I saw more than 1000 people, including parents and children together, and unaccompanied children, at one processing facility and hundreds of single men at a second facility. I was able to speak with some of the parents and children, to hear more about why they had come to the border and the dangers they faced on the journey. I was also able to get a firsthand briefing from the officials on the ground who are dealing with the crisis.

“I believe our Customs and Border Protection officials on the ground are doing the best they can in an impossible situation. The unprecedented influx of tens of thousands of border crossings every week, more than half of which are now families with children, has strained the existing infrastructure and pulled between 40 and 60 percent of the border patrol agents off the border to be able to deal with the huge processing and humanitarian challenge. This takes border patrol away from their fundamental task of stopping illegal immigration and illegal drugs, including the crystal meth and heroin that is devastating my state of Ohio. 

“Because of the clear humanitarian crisis, I advocated for the Administration’s request for an additional $4.6 billion in federal funding for humanitarian assistance that Congress finally approved last month. Congress should have acted sooner, but I was able to see firsthand how those funds are now being used to add needed processing space. Yesterday’s trip made it clear that Congress must now do more to reduce the incentives in our current laws and rules that encourage human traffickers bring families and children to the border, particularly from Central America.

“I return to Washington more convinced than ever that we need new laws to address three fundamental problems that, if not addressed, will continue to draw unprecedented numbers of people to the border, allow migrants to continue to be exploited by human smugglers and put in dangerous situations, and overwhelm our system. We must fix our broken asylum laws and work with the United Nations on a refugee alternative where people apply outside of our country, we must overturn the parts of court rulings that necessitate releasing people into the United States if they are accompanied by a child, and we must permit the return of unaccompanied children to their families in their home countries. These measures, in combination with more assistance from Mexico and more effective aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, will substantially stem the flow and allow our legal immigration system to work again. I will redouble my efforts to work with Democrats and Republicans on bipartisan solutions to deal with these issues to alleviate the very real crisis at the border.”

NOTE: Portman discussed his trip to the border on Fox Business’s Varney & Company earlier this week.  In the past several weeks – in this media interview and others, on the Senate floor and at a June 26 Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee hearing – Portman has promoted a potential solution he has called the Refugee Alternative to vet vulnerable individuals seeking asylum in their home country or in a third country and discourage them from making a dangerous journey north to the US border.

Under this framework, the United Nations (UN) would process refugee claims using the same criteria as used in the asylum system, just as they do in crises around the world.  Established UN infrastructure would be used to adjudicate refugee claims more quickly, and allow these claims to be processed in Mexico, as well as the Central American countries of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala where most asylum-seekers at the border are coming from.  In turn, the United States would raise the refugee cap to allow a greater number of asylum seekers to be resettled in the U.S.  At the June 26 HSGAC hearing, experts at DHS agreed with Portman that this model could help better address the crisis at the border. 

A video from the visit is below: