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“The Border is Open”: Border Patrol Wife, Child Trafficking Expert, Fentanyl Mom Testify on Human Cost of Border Crisis

September 14, 2023

Committee continues investigation into Biden and Mayorkas’ culpability for humanitarian crisis at the Southwest border

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the House Committee on Homeland Security, led by Chairman Mark E. Green, MD (R-TN), held a full committee hearing to examine the human cost of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and President Biden’s historic crisis at the Southwest border. Tim Ballard, a former special agent for the Department of Homeland Securityin the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force; Sandy Snodgrass, a mother who lost her son to fentanyl poisoning and the founder of Alaska Fentanyl Response; and Mayra Cantu, the wife of a Border Patrol agent, provided hard-hitting and heart-wrenching testimony about the effects of the border crisis on their personal and professional lives. Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Immigrants’ Rights Project, also provided testimony.
This hearing was part of the Committee’s five-phase investigation into the unprecedented crisis at the Southwest border and President Biden and Secretary Mayorkas’ reckless open-border policies. Watch the full hearing here.

Mr. Ballard highlighted his experience in combating international child exploitation in his opening statement:
“The horrors a child faces as a victim of human trafficking demand that we take action. A child can be sold up to 20 times per day, six days a week for ten years or even longer depending on when the abuse began…Poor U.S. border security and broken U.S. policy are feeding the growth of human trafficking in the United States…Tragically, as a result of this administration’s reckless policies, DHS and HHS have unwittingly become a child trafficking delivery service. This must stop.”

Mrs. Cantu addressed Secretary Mayorkas directly in her opening statement:

“Our agents are fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters—they are real humans with human emotions. Emotions like anger, frustration, sadness, sympathy, and every emotion you or I would feel if we heard those [alien] stories. To that I asked Mr. Mayorkas: what has been done to assist our agents to handle these situations? What is the protocol? This Border Patrol wife is asking what was the plan for our agents who would be hearing these stories from the millions of illegal immigrants…We all knew for months in advance of caravans, of family units who were coming…Did you consider the long-term effects on an agent’s mental and spiritual health from listening to the horrific tragedies from the millions of illegal immigrants that would be crossing? What are you doing now two-and-a-half years later?”

Ms. Snodgrass detailed the tragic loss of her beloved son Bruce to fentanyl poisoning in 2021 in her opening statement:
“My only child, Robert Bruce Snodgrass, became forever 22 on October 26th, 2021, in Anchorage Alaska. He was poisoned by fentanyl on the cold October day in a wooded area within shouting distance of a McDonald’s drive through. The fentanyl he got that day prevented him from being able to call out for help. He dropped and died where he stood. Bruce loved Alaska, he was an outdoorsman, a free solo climber and wilderness survival expert. He was safe in the backcountry of Alaska. He was not safe in his own hometown. The year Bruce died Alaska was number one in the nation for increased illicit drug deaths. The 73% increase was fueled by fentanyl. In the first 6 months of 2023 enough fentanyl was seized in Alaska to kill every Alaskan three times.”

In his opening line of questioning, Chairman Green questioned Mr. Ballard on the causes of the unprecedented amount of human trafficking across the Southwest border:
“Are the catch-and-release policies of Secretary Mayorkas facilitating the trafficking of people and children?”
Mr. Ballard answered: 
Chairman Green continued:
“The Attorney General appointed by President Biden admitted in the U.S. Senate that the cartels are using the catch-and-release policies strategically to overwhelm the Border Patrol agents and bypass them with drugs and trafficked humans. Do you believe Secretary Mayorkas knows there are human trafficking cases happening because of his policies.”
Mr. Ballard answered: 
“I do believe he knows that.”
Chairman Green then questioned Mr. Gelernt on the thousands of missing unaccompanied migrant children (UACs) in the U.S. because of the border crisis:
“Are you going to sue the Biden administration over the 85,000 missing children because of these policies?”
Mr. Gelernt answered, seemingly downplaying this massive number reported by the New York Times:
“On those children, we don’t know that they were missing. I suspect that their sponsors often don’t answer calls from the government. So, I don’t know that they’re missing.”
In his closing statement, Chairman Green addressed Mr. Gelernt’s earlier answer, saying:
85,000 children—the sponsor doesn’t want to ‘pick up the phone.’ I’m sorry, but those children deserve us getting to the bottom of it…This administration has separated 400,000 children from their parents by not sending them back to their parents in their home countries…Tens of thousands of American parents have been permanently separated from their children because they are dead due to the fentanyl pouring across our Southwest border.”

Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Michael McCaul (R-TX) asked Mr. Ballard about how the Biden administration’s policies have incentivized human trafficking across the Southwest border:

“Would you agree that this is one of the worst human trafficking events of your lifetime?”

Mr. Ballard answered:


Chairman McCaul continued:

“On day one, this administration rescinded a policy that was working. It was called Remain in Mexico. And you know how political asylum works. They couldn’t touch base in the U.S. There was no catch and release. 85% don’t qualify, 15% do—and it worked. On day one it was rescinded, and guess what happens? The floodgates [open]…When the kids get here, guess what? They have no legal status, so where do they go?”

Mr. Ballard answered:

“They have to be released to HHS, where they wait for any sponsor to come and pick them up and take them home. With no [thorough] vetting.”

Chairman McCaul continued:

“A lot of times these sponsors have maybe 15 different children. And guess what they’re doing? Sex trafficking. They are bringing it now inside the United States of America. And guess what? Where do the young boys typically go? They don’t have a home, maybe they have a sponsor, but guess what happens to them.”

Mr. Ballard answered:

“Well, they are exploited for labor [or] sex. Any kind of exploitation is available, and they have no name, no number. They are the perfect victim of exploitation in this country because no one even knows they exist.”

Chairman McCaul continued:

“And the boys, I would argue, go to MS-13, where they have to pay back their debt to the cartels. This is a racket, and it’s sanctioned by this administration…Would you agree with that?”

Mr. Ballard concluded:

“The policies absolutely made this possible.”

Subcommittee on Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Protection Chairman Andrew Garbarino (R-NY) asked Mrs. Cantu about the effects of this humanitarian crisis on those serving on the frontlines, including her husband:

“The DHS Inspector General released a report in May of this year that found that ICE and CBP personnel felt that Secretary Mayorkas’ policies have forced them to perform their job with one hand tied behind their back. Multiple chief patrol agents, including the now chief of the Border Patrol, told this Committee in official interviews this summer that they had heard similar frustrations from their agents. Do you agree?”

Mrs. Cantu answered:

“Yes, I agree…A lot of duties have been taken away from our Border Patrol agents, the duties that they learned at the academy to do. Their duties have been diluted because of the simple concept that the border is open…Another frustration is not being able to have a one-on-one interview with juveniles, with kids. Before, our agents would do that, our Border Patrol agents would. How do I know that? Because my husband would come home with all those stories. Now, it’s not like that anymore. It’s too many, because of the concept that our border is open. Now, that’s how we started losing kids, because our agents have lost the one-on-one [interview] with those kids. The rules [and] the laws that are in place, are not being followed, and that’s frustrating for them…I haven’t come across a question that you guys have asked that doesn’t pertain to an agent…Every agent can tell you exactly how to fix this problem, but nobody is listening…Our Border Patrol agents have been completely skipped out of this entire system, and that’s why we sit here today.”

Chairman Garbarino concluded:

“And I know that frustration often leads to trauma and PTSD for these agents.”

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) questioned Ms. Snodgrass about the loss of her son to fentanyl poisoning, a deadly drug that is pouring across our Southwest border from cartels in Mexico:
“I can’t imagine what you go through losing a child.”
Ms. Snodgrass answered:
“I can tell you those cartels are targeting your children. They are targeting military-aged youth in China and Mexico, and they’re targeting your children.”
Rep. Greene then asked Ms. Snodgrass about President Biden’s dismissive reaction to a previous House Homeland Security Committee witness, Rebecca Kiessling, who lost her two sons to fentanyl under the prior administration:
“How did Joe Biden’s comments—where he laughed at her—sit with parents like you who lost a child due to fentanyl poisoning. How did that make you feel?”

Ms. Snodgrass answered:
“It’s unconscionable that this is not recognized as a red, white, and blue issue. These are American children dying on American soil…We will never forget the disrespect paid to us…This country is being targeted. It’s a war being won, in my opinion, on American soil.”

Rep. Dale Strong (R-AL) questioned Mr. Ballard on ways to combat human trafficking across our borders:

“As you mentioned in your testimony, in 2022 alone immigration authorities encountered 152,000 unaccompanied minors, an all-time high. Many of these children who enter the U.S. illegally will be put at risk of sexual exploitation. In fact, it’s estimated that 72% of those trafficked in the U.S. are immigrants. My colleagues across the aisle regularly use words like safe, compassionate, and humane to describe their border policies. Do you think that the children being sold into sex slavery would agree that these policies are humane?”

Mr. Ballard answered:

“They would absolutely not agree that they’re humane.”

Rep. Strong continued:

“What, in your opinion, would be more humane and help lessen the risk of exportation of these children?”

Mr. Ballard concluded:

“The most compassionate, humane thing to do is to enforce our borders as the laws require.”

Rep. Strong then asked Mr. Gelernt whether the ACLU had looked into the separation of American parents from their children who have died from fentanyl poisonings:

“Has your organization ever done a study related to American parents being separated from their children by death because of fentanyl overdoses, over 300 a day?”

Mr. Gelernt answered:

“I don’t know.”