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Katko & Higgins Opening Statements in Border Security Hearing

June 10, 2021

Katko & Higgins Opening Statements in Border Security Hearing

WASHINGTON, DC – Rep. John Katko (R-NY), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, and Rep. Clay Higgins (R-LA), Ranking Member of the Border Security Subcommittee, delivered the following opening statements in a subcommittee hearing entitled, “Unaccompanied Children at the Border: Federal Response and the Way Forward.”

Ranking Member Katko’s Opening Statement

Thank you, Madam Chair. I am pleased that this subcommittee is holding a hearing today on a topic all of us care deeply about: the welfare of children crossing the southwest border.

Some of these children arrive alone and afraid, with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Others arrive with loved ones, hoping for a better life in the United States. Many children making the dangerous journey to the United States face tragic circumstances of abuse, illness, violence, and trafficking along the way. Increasingly, drug cartels use children as pawns to distract Border Patrol Agents as illicit drugs are smuggled across the border.

I have now taken two trips to the southern border in the last couple of months to see the situation firsthand—something not done by either President Biden or Vice President Harris, who was tasked with trying to clean up the mess created by this Administration. The stories my colleagues and I heard from the frontline men and women of DHS about the dueling humanitarian, security, and public health crises were incredibly disturbing. With CBP encountering more than 14,000 unaccompanied children and single minors at the southwest border in May 2021 alone—approximately 14 times the number encountered in the same month just one year ago—an already strained workforce continues to face a lack of capacity and resources to effectively manage this crisis.

Additionally, I am troubled that the Biden Administration has reportedly removed important protections related to vetting the sponsors to whom unaccompanied children are released, while also waiving background check requirements for caregivers at migrant care facilities. These troubling changes in policy are doubly concerning amongst recent reports of abuse at these facilities.

Moreover, as we anticipate changes to enforcement of Title 42 public health authorities at the border and with the elimination of the critical “remain in Mexico” policy, our frontline law enforcement are being undermined by their own government’s policies at a time when they need more resources and more support—not less. The President’s budget proposal allows for not a single additional Border Patrol Agent, despite a 20-year high in migrant numbers. Meanwhile, the Vice President speaks in vague, hollow terms about what the U.S. is doing long-term down in Guatemala, while dismissing calls for her to visit the southwest border.

Unaccompanied children are suffering at the hands of human smugglers on their dangerous journey to the United States. Those that make it into the United States are often exploited by cartels and gangs.

I hope that this hearing today will be an honest examination of the conditions facing these children on the ground, as well as the challenges facing the frontline men and women of DHS working amidst dire circumstances.

Before I close, I do want to note this: in the city of Syracuse, we have some of the highest concentrations of poverty in the United States of America. Those pockets of poverty exist all across this country. As an organized crime prosecutor in Syracuse prosecuting gang cases, I saw firsthand the devastating effects of this extreme poverty on our communities. It often leads to a life of crime and in early death for these kids. It’s tragic.

Money that could be spent to help these kids – American citizen children – is instead being used to deal with a crisis at the border that this Administration created on January 20. There’s not an agent that works on the border that will tell you anything other than the fact that everything changed on January 20 when the President changed those executive orders.

I really hope that we have a sober discussion about that today. This is not a Democratic issue or a Republican issue. As you all know, I’m one of the most bipartisan members in Congress. We are doing a major disservice to our communities by ignoring the challenges at the border.

I thank our witnesses for appearing before the Committee today, and I yield back the balance of my time.

Ranking Member Higgins’ Opening Statement

Thank you, Madam Chair, for holding this important hearing. I’d like to attempt to frame this for Americans that are observing this hearing.

The current crisis at our southwest border is worse than the migrant surges in both 2014 and 2019, both of those surges resulted in emergency supplemental funding from Congress. We have yet to receive such a request this time around, however, during a trip to the border, Members heard about the fast-depleting resources at Border Patrol facilities. I have serious concerns that funds appropriated by Congress for national security are being rerouted to address the humanitarian crisis at the border without being properly replenished.

Vice President Harris was appointed to lead efforts to stop the crisis at the border, however she has yet to go down and witness what is happening firsthand. President Biden has also yet to visit the border or facilities holding unaccompanied minors since his inauguration.

Interviews with Border Patrol agents have resulted in reasonable acceptance of the fact that migrants are directly responding to the Biden Administration’s policies. It’s why they’re getting in the pipelines.

I’d like to frame this for America. The Biden campaign’s messages to their base became Biden White House policies that we’re witnessing right now. The cartels began filling their pipeline to maximum capacity last year, back in November. We’re now well into 2021. Every illegal immigrant that’s in the pipeline right now has arranged their passage through that pipeline—an illegal pipeline of human beings and drugs. They put themselves in that pipeline since the Biden Administration was inaugurated and certainly since November of last year.

What we’re witnessing right now is layers of crisis. We’re discussing the humanitarian crisis today. We have a national sovereignty crisis as well. We have lost the sovereignty and control of our southern border. We must maintain our sovereignty as a nation or all can be lost.

The humanitarian crisis is in the focus right now and it should be because we’re a loving, compassionate, generous nation, and we must deal with the sorrow, pain, and extreme hardship that these children are facing as they come into our country illegally. But we have to do this with a balance enforcing our laws.

We have a constitutional crisis. We have a federal government that’s mandating to our sovereign states and interfering with their own laws and their own right to protect their own sovereignty.

We have a criminal crisis. The percentage of gotaways has increased as law enforcement has been overwhelmed at the border. The numbers are only estimated; they can’t be accurately assessed, but our best measure is that it’s higher than it’s been in modern history. The illegal immigrants that want to escape Border Patrol are the ones generally that are criminally involved with drug trafficking or human trafficking.

This Committee has a duty to force action from the Executive Branch when we feel that its policies are lacking or injurious. This is true at any time regardless of which party is in power. I look forward to bipartisan solutions. I respect our Chairwoman’s leadership, and I envision a bipartisan endeavor here that will result in actual answers for the American people because they certainly deserve them.