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Subcommittee Chairs Higgins, Pfluger Deliver Opening Statements in Joint Hearing on the Human Cost of Biden & Mayorkas’ Border Crisis

July 26, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border Security and Enforcement Chairman Clay Higgins (R-LA) and Subcommittee on Counterterrorism, Law Enforcement, and Intelligence Chairman August Pfluger (R-TX) delivered the following opening statements in a joint hearing on the tragic human cost of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and President Biden’s historic humanitarian border crisis. 

Watch Chairman Higgins’ full opening statement in the joint hearing entitled, “The Real Cost of an Open Border: How Americans are Paying the Price.”

Good afternoon, and welcome to the Subcommittee on Border Security and Enforcement and Subcommittee on Counterterrorism, Law Enforcement, and Intelligence joint hearing on the Real Cost of an Open Border; How Americans are Paying the Price. 

Today’s hearing will examine how the Biden administration’s open border policies have caused incalculable human cost not just to American citizens but also to those driven to make the treacherous journey to our Southwest Border. 

Thank you to our witnesses for being here today. The stories they will share will be harrowing, but it is important that the American people hear the true costs of this administration’s failure to secure our sovereign border.

From the impact on our frontline law enforcement officers, to the increase in illegal alien crime, to record deaths from fentanyl poisoning, to the growing number of migrant deaths along our borders, the Biden/Mayorkas border crisis has had a devastating impact that is worsening daily. 

Open border policies have wreaked havoc on American communities, taxed law enforcement resources and morale, emboldened human and drug smuggling operations, and directly resulted in a record number of alien deaths along our Southwest Border Region. 

And no community has been hit harder than those within the Border Regions.

Devastation to private property, particularly ranches, represents a daily challenge to those living in border communities. One of our witnesses here today, Mr. JR Ramirez, who manages two commercial cow-calf operations, is bearing a financial burden that threatens his ability to operate a profitable business that both feeds our nation and protects essential habitats and wild spaces.

An inexcusable financial burden is placed upon the many men and women who operate businesses and have homes along the southern border simply for trying to live and work, as these migrants force their way into the country with no regard for the destruction they are causing to property along the way.

The cost of the border crisis extends to the men and women of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.  

As the Administration’s open border policies enable cartels, the price is paid by those doing their jobs. Customs and Border Protection morale is at an all-time low, and state and local resources have been unable to keep up with the flood of humans and drugs across the border. 

That flood of humans across the border includes the massive influx of human trafficking and human smuggling being reported recently. We rightly commit law enforcement resources to combat this scourge nationwide; however, our border policies should be in tune with this goal, not make this problem worse for someone else to deal with.

Just last year, Customs and Border Protection officials found the bodies of at least 848 aliens along the Southwest Border, and according to the UN’s International Organization for Migration, the Southwest border is the “deadliest land crossing in the world.” 

This Administration has touted that their border policies are “safe, orderly, and humane,” but anyone who has been down to the border can attest that there is nothing safe, orderly, or humane about the situation. 

Safe, orderly, and humane policies wouldn’t allow a record number of drugs into the country. They wouldn’t encourage migration across the deadliest land crossing in the world and leave our law enforcement and border communities to deal with the crisis on their own.

Watch Chairman Pfluger’s full opening statement in the joint hearing entitled, “The Real Cost of an Open Border: How Americans are Paying the Price.”

As prepared for delivery:

Good afternoon, and welcome to the joint hearing on the Subcommittee on Border Security and Enforcement and the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism, Law Enforcement, and Intelligence.

I thank Chairman Higgins for convening this important hearing—a hearing to examine the heartbreaking realities and high cost to Americans and those making the treacherous journey to the southwest border due to the Biden administration’s failure to secure our southwest border.

This abject failure has resulted in tragedies across the country and in my home state of Texas specifically. Elisa Tambunga is with us today. Elisa is a mother who lost her 71- year-old mother and her 7-year-old daughter when they were killed in a car crash in Ozona, Texas, when a human trafficker smuggling 11 illegal aliens crashed into them during a high-speed chase.

Their names were Maria and Emilia Tambunga. Over the last several months, I have heard numerous stories about Emilia and Maria. I had been told that Emilia was an outgoing fashionista who was ready to take on the world.

She dreamed of being an influencer and a teacher. She was active in sports and was a model student at Ozona Elementary School. She loved to play with her friends, dance with her Aunt Ginny, and cook with her Grandma Maria who was a dedicated member of her community. Thank you, Elisa for traveling from Texas to share your story with us and the American people.

Mr. Ramirez is from La Pryor, Texas, where he manages multiple commercial cow-calf operations. His family has been ranching in Texas since the 1930s and he is part of the fifth generation involved in the operation.

Thank you as well for being with us today to share your perspective about how illegal immigration and a failure to secure the border has threatened your business, security, and way of life.

This crisis has also resulted in the suffering and death of so many migrants who make the dangerous journey to the border. Earlier this month, I was proud to lead a bipartisan delegation of members on an official visit to Latin America, which provided a direct look into the epicenter of the very real threats to our homeland security stemming from this region.

During this visit, we met with national security and law enforcement leaders in Brazil, Colombia, and Panama to not only discuss the rising threat of the Chinese Communist Party’s influence in the region, but to investigate the evolving and sophisticated threat of transnational criminal organizations and the migration crisis that these countries are experiencing as a result of the Biden administration’s and Secretary Mayorkas’ failed immigration policies.

Notably, we visited the Darien region of Panama where we toured the first migrant village called Bajo Chiquito that migrants encountered in Panama after the grueling journey through the Darien jungle. We learned that approximately 1,500 to 2,000 migrants are encountered daily in that village.

To put this into context, according to Panama’s National Migration Service, 166,000 migrants and refugees entered Panama from Colombia through the Darien jungle between January and May 2023—a sixfold increase from the same period the year prior.

We also visited the San Vincente camp, a small facility where migrants receive basic necessities like food, water, and medical care before being put on a bus to travel to the next transit country like Costa Rica, and then ultimately to the United States.

At the San Vincente camp, I spoke with a young child who had severe cuts on his legs from journeying through the Darien. The child could not walk on his own and needed to be lifted for treatment. There were many harrowing stories like this showcasing the dangerous journey through the Darien, a journey that this administration’s policies are encouraging an unprecedented number of people to make.

We spoke with migrants from around the world including Sri Lanka, Venezuela, and Haiti. They all told us they are headed to the United States.

We were also briefed by Panamanian officials on Panama’s operations in the Darien region, to include Panama’s National Border Service SENAFRONT about their work to register migrants on the Biometric Identification Transnational Border Migration Alert Program or BITMAP.

We learned that Panama leads the BITMAP program in enrollments and identifications of Known Suspected Terrorists or KSTs, recently surpassing 100,000 BITMAP checks and identifications of nearly 100 KSTs and a dozen INTERPOL matches. This is highly concerning as it is a significant increase from prior years. 

According to DHS data, so far in Fiscal Year 2023, U.S. Border Patrol has already encountered 140 individuals along the Southwest border with derogatory information in the Terrorist Screening Data Set between ports of entry, in addition to 98 individuals encountered in Fiscal Year 2022.

These figures compare to only 3 such aliens apprehended in Fiscal Year 2020, 0 in Fiscal Year 2019, 6 in Fiscal Year 2018, and 2 in Fiscal Year 2017.

Let me also point out that the Biden administration’s DHS refused to release these numbers of potential known or suspected terrorists attempting to illegally cross into the United States. Only by holding them accountable did we make sure that this information is disclosed to the American people as they have a right to know the threats our nation is facing.

At the same time, over 1.5 million illegal alien “gotaways’ have successfully crossed the border undetected during the Biden administration, and are now at large within our communities.

These “known gotaways” do not provide biometric or biographic information to U.S. Border Patrol agents and continue their journey into the interior of the country without background checks against law enforcement databases.

There are some who may argue against the commonsense reality that individuals on the terror watchlist streaming across our border at record rates pose a threat to America’s national security—both those apprehended between the ports of entry, and those among the 1.5 million known gotaways since Fiscal Year 2021. These are fundamentally unserious arguments.

Only an administration unserious about border security would continue to defend policies that have encouraged this chaos. There is also no doubt that the Biden administration’s policies and rhetoric are encouraging hundreds of thousands of migrants to make the life-threatening journey through this area every year.

These same polices incentivize millions of people from around the world to place themselves at the mercy of transnational criminal organizations and cartels, enduring horrifying treatment to cross the southwest border.

Aside from the humanitarian crisis these failed policies have created, our nation is also battling a drug epidemic that is fueled by the illicit flow of fentanyl, xylazine, meth and heroin crossing our southwestern border.

More than 1,500 people per week die from taking some type of opioid—which is at an all-time high. Securing our border is a critical first step in helping reverse this trend. Secretary Mayorkas and President Biden’s failure to lead has left our country less secure.

We must secure our border, and this Committee will continue to hold them accountable for their actions and inactions. The human cost, both to Americans and migrants alike, is far too high to continue to willfully ignore because doing so is politically expedient.