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RIO GRANDE VALLEY, Texas (Nexstar) — As a group of unaccompanied minors turned themselves in to federal authorities near the border wall in McAllen, agent Chris Cabrera sighed in frustration. He grows weary seeing yet another set of migrant children making the dangerous journey on their own.
Cabrera has been a border patrol agent for 22 years and currently serves as the vice president of the National Border Patrol Council. Giving a tour to reporters on behalf of the union, Cabrera told Nexstar his job has never been more challenging than it is today.
“We care about what goes on,” he said. “The reason we’re so adamant that it needs to stop is the amount of suffering that we see.”
Over the course of two days, Cabrera showed us spots where U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents catch smugglers helping people enter the country illegally via holes in fences or gaps in the border wall. At the site of the wall, a pile of 20-foot makeshift and metal ladders sat by a dumpster on the Texas side. Cabrera said at one point in time their federal office was filled to the brim with ladders agents would find and remove from the wall.
Along with the four unaccompanied minors, 18 other migrants turned themselves in to CBP agents around 11 p.m. on Friday. The youngest among the group was with its parents, a baby around 16 months old. The entire group loaded a bus to presumably go to one of the federal processing centers.
“People know that if they come in, they say a few magic keywords, that we’re going to release them into the country with a court date five years away, and nobody’s really going to look for if they don’t show up,” Cabrera said. “It’s easier to get into this country illegally than it is to get in here legally. So, of course, they’re gonna take advantage of that.”
Cabrera has several ideas for policy changes that he thinks will improve the situation: he wants the end of so-called “catch and release,” where asylum-seekers are processed and then released into the country while they wait oftentimes years for a court date. He also thinks the requirements for seeking asylum should be higher, as Cabrera says just about everyone he encounters claims to be seeking asylum.
A divided Congress struggles to agree on legislative solutions
Part of why Nexstar went to the border over the weekend was to also follow a group of bipartisan Texas delegates who toured the border on Friday and Saturday before heading to Mexico City to meet with leaders Sunday and Monday.
The delegation was led by the House Foreign Affairs chair, Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin. He was joined by three other Texas delegates: Reps. Randy Weber, a Republican from Friendswood; Monica De La Cruz, a Republican from Edinburg; and Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from Laredo.
On Sunday, the group set off to Mexico City to meet with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and his political challengers. They are also set to tour a fentanyl crime lab, with the goal of reaching agreements with Mexican officials as to how to stop the flow of illegal drugs into the United States, as well as curb the number of migrants crossing illegally.
“We are witnessing a human tragedy at this border,” McCaul told reporters after the lawmakers went on a boat tour in the Rio Grande River with Texas law enforcement officials.
“We’re gonna work very hard in the next month to get as strong border security measures as we can on the emergency supplemental that will be tied to Ukraine and Israel funding and also to protect Taiwan from an aggressive China,” he said.
Immigration legislation has been, historically, a Herculean task for Congress — let alone in a session that has been marred by chaos. But the delegates remained hopeful that their showing of bipartisanship would be a signal to their colleagues that agreement and compromise are possible.
Although McCaul doesn’t entirely agree that aid to the nation’s international allies should be held hostage at a time of global conflict, he does think it gives the GOP leverage at this moment in time. Last week, McCaul and other top leaders met with President Joe Biden to discuss the stalemate on foreign aid and border security.
“Ukraine is very important to [President Biden]. So is Israel funding; that’s very important to me, as is funding to protect Taiwan and the Pacific from an aggressive China,” McCaul told Nexstar. “They’re all critically important. But we have the best leverage now to get something meaningful done. And that’s our goal.”
Like many of her Republican colleagues, De La Cruz is challenging the Senate to either adopt the House’s border deal, HR 2 — which passed last May — or to propose an alternative solution that would still appease the GOP. But when asked what she would compromise on, the freshman Republican seemed unwilling to fold on the four main pillars of Republicans’ border package, saying she likes HR 2 “as it is.”
Although Democrats like Cuellar voted against the proposal in the House, he agreed with certain Republican-led proposals, like toughening the process for claiming asylum. However, the likelihood of the Senate accepting the House border deal at face value is unlikely.
“HR 2 is not gonna pass in the Senate. The Senate bill, if it’s done bipartisan, will have a chance … I think a compromise, depending on what the Senate does, could have a possibility on the House,” Cuellar said.
In the Senate, Democratic negotiators say they are making progress — but challenges await as the deal is subject to opposition from Republicans in the lower chamber.