What I found at the southern border

Misinformation campaigns have clouded the truth. New York State has an obligation to act in a responsible manner that does not continue to escalate this crisis.

| 03 Sep 2019 | 08:36

Editor's note: The following is excerpted from Assemblyman Schmitt's September 2019 "Border Security and Humanitarian Crisis Report."

Our nation is facing an ongoing multidimensional immigration and humanitarian crisis.

New York’s governing majorities have taken aggressive positions on policies that place our state at the forefront of the debate on action related to illegal immigration. Given the legislative and executive actions related to illegal immigration that have taken place during the first session of my term, and numerous proposals still awaiting action and the fact that my district is home to an ICE detention facility, I decided to personally fund a fact finding mission to the US/Mexican border to gain first hand knowledge on this continuing crisis.

Concerted misinformation campaigns on this issue have clouded the truth. Quick sound bites regarding our southern border and the immigration crisis are misleading.

I spent several days in Texas. Once I landed in Austin I met with local and state officials to discuss a variety of topics with a focus on illegal immigration.

Later in the day, I traveled to the border to Hidalgo County, Texas. Early the next day, Hidalgo County Sheriff J.E. Guerra and US Border Patrol provided an in depth briefing on the ongoing crisis followed by an inspection of the McAllen Border PatrolStation, the busiest in the nation, and then a tour of numerous border locations along the Rio Grande River which consists of natural, dense brush, constructed border fence and bollard levee wall. During the tour Border Patrol Agents and Sheriffs Deputies tracked immigrants who recently crossed over the Rio Grande River via rafts illegally and had set out on foot. I also observed recently launched Mexican Military border security operations.

Traveling via car the next stop was Val Verde County, Texas. Escorted by Val Verde Sheriff’s Department officials I toured 1.8 miles of border fence, visited legal ports of entry, examined illegal land and water border crossing locations, visited an immigration emergency shelter and addressed US Border Patrol Agents and US Army Soldiers.

The truth is at the forefront of this crisis are the threats to national security we face at the border with the inability to fully secure against and deter illegal entry and drug trafficking.Then there is the humanitarian side where men, women and children are being exploited by cartels and transnational criminal entities.

New York State is a major player in this ongoing crisis. According to US Border Patrol, New York along with California, are the most sought after destinations for illegal immigrants, coupled with drugs trafficked across the border are traced directly to destinations in New York and the greater Northeastern United States.

A term that came up frequently while at the border was “pull factor.” This term was used by Border Patrol Agents to describe actions and rhetoric that cause surges in illegal immigration. Specifically legislative actions taken in New York during this most recent session directly contributed to increases in the immigration pull factor, therefore spiking illegal border crossing attempts. Pull factors are those that entice individuals to cross the border en masse and in turn overload law enforcement as described by US Border Patrol. The inundation of immigration through illegal border crossings overwhelms the holding station and negatively affects the entire documentation process. Examples of pull factors are official legislative actions such as providing drivers licenses to illegal aliens, free college tuition and strong rhetoric of promised benefits to people entering the United State of America illegally.

At least 52 pieces of legislation granting benefits to those in our country illegally have been introduced during the current state legislative term.

Our state legislative actions and proposals this year, along with other local government actions, directly impact this crisis. While proponents of these actions that turn into illegal immigration pull factors argue they are the just and right course, I have seen first hand the opposite is true.

Border Patrol

Much media attention and political rhetoric has been focused on the United States Border Patrol treatment of detained immigrants and overall actions. I visited Border Patrol McAllen Station and Comstock Station. McAllen is the busiest station in the country, and has received the most media attention.I examined the entire operation at McAllen including the holding cells, supply rooms, hygiene facilities and medical and dental areas. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary and very much resembled a military base setup and operation. Much of military base resemblance is due to the fact that the extreme number of people who entered illegally overwhelmed the pre-existing facility capacity requiring a rapidly developed higher capacity.

There were many stories about Border Patrol agents giving up the lunch in their personal bag to feed rescued immigrants crossing illegally. The local shopping centers have been cleaned out of all diapers and baby supplies because Border Patrol agents went in and personally purchased the supplies they ran low on. Much of the clothing donated for use by those who crossed has come directly from Border Patrol agents and their families.

In speaking to illegal immigrants who had recently crossed into our country at an emergency shelter they described their interactions with US Border Patrol as humane and with no mention of mistreatment. The shelter volunteers echoed that statement, sharing with me their findings on the ground of considerate conduct by US Border Patrol or other federal law enforcement agencies. Upon leaving the emergency shelter the “good-byes” were accompanied by requests to relay these truths.

At every level I was asked to bring back to New York the truth about US Border Patrol in that the people who are crossing our border illegally are being treated humanely. In more cases than not, US Border Patrol and law enforcement are sought out for surrender by those entering illegally because they know immediate assistance will be provided.

I also had the ability to address US Border Patrol Agents and Army Soldiers assigned to US Border Patrol Comstock Station and McAllen Station. Despite months of inaccurate media coverage, disparagement and threats in the public these men and women go out every day to do their job of facing multitudes of danger in order to not only keep America safe, but also provide emergency aid and relief to illegal immigrants in need. I thanked these agents for their efforts and told them they are appreciated, words they have not heard very frequently of late. Our law enforcement at every level put their lives on the line each day to serve; we must respect and honor that commitment in all circumstances.

New York State has an obligation to act in a responsible manner that does not continue to escalate this crisis. As Assemblyman I plan to bring this reality to my colleagues during debate and discussion on legislation. We must prudently consider all legislation introduced and ensure that we cease passing measures that have a larger negative impact, creating new pull factors that will exasperate the ongoing crisis and lead to the exploitation of more men, women and children by cartels.

When all New York leaders consider the full weight of this crisis and their ability to impact it we can curtail New York's negative impact on this multidimensional immigration and humanitarian crisis. Given the current governing realities of state government this will be a steep task but one that I will strongly advocate for.