"It's almost like everybody is working together in the neighborhood to put out a fire, but the fire is overwhelming," Cornyn said.
JOHN CORNYN: Well, thank you for your hospitality, and God bless Catholic charities. They do the Lord's work by taking care of these children who have traveled a long way to come to the United States only now to be-- go through the trauma not only of the long journey, but also, then, of being placed with sponsors here in the United States while they await their court hearing in immigration court.
The human smugglers who smuggle people across the border don't care anything about the people, including these children. They consider them to be a commodity, like-- like drugs or anything else they can make money from. And they understand our laws very well, because they exploit them on a regular basis, again, for profit.
And one consequence of flooding the border with unaccompanied children is that the Border Patrol, rather than stopping illegal drugs and other contraband, human trafficking across the border, they are occupied with the care and custody of these children for up to 72 hours, ideally, before they then hand them off to Health and Human Services and then the Office of Refugee Relocation that works with Catholic Charities. But what that means when the Border Patrol is off the front line, then the criminal organizations that smuggle people and smuggle drugs, then they have an opening they can run through to get more of the illegal drugs into the United States.
Last year alone, there were 80,000 Americans who died of drug overdoses. About 20% of that is heroin that comes from-- 92% of that comes from Mexico. So this is really a tragic set of circumstances. And I know everybody involved is trying to do the very best they can under very difficult circumstances, ranging from the Border Patrol that are completely overwhelmed. You've seen the Border Patrol stations where children are packed in like sardines.
They're supposed to be processed within 72 hours, but now because of a lack of facilities to place these children with Health and Human Services, they get stacked up for days on end in those very difficult conditions, even in the midst of a pandemic where, obviously, they're not social distancing. And of course, many of them had not been tested or know whether they are positive or spreading the virus, which is another complication. But the Border Patrol then hands them off to Health and Human Services that does an outstanding job.
Again, I'm not here to criticize any of the people who are trying to help. It's almost like everybody is working together in the neighborhood to put out a fire, but the fire is overwhelming the capacity of the neighborhood to put it out. But then the ultimate step is placing these children, with the help of Catholic Charities in this intermediate step, with a sponsor in the United States, hopefully a biological relative, but not always.
And one of the questions I've had is, what is the vetting process and the follow-up process? I know Catholic Charities is a gold standard when it comes to the services they provide, but I worry that there are others that are providing this service that do not follow up, do not vet those sponsors and the dangers you can imagine of additional trauma associated with that placement with non-relatives that happens to be sponsors the potential is there, and that concerns me very much.
So finally, let me just say what the Border Patrol tells me is that there's two things we really need to think about. We need to think about the violence and the poverty that people are fleeing, that's the push factor, as they call it, together with the incentive of the smugglers to make money with their human cargo, so this is part of their business enterprise, along with the pull factors, which is the perception of how easy it is to make it into the United States and stay.
And that's where the policies that are passed by the United States Congress are important and where I'm working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to try to come up with policies that will give people an opportunity to have their hearing in front of an immigration judge while they are still being processed, rather than to release them with a notice to appear with 1.2 million backlogged cases in immigration court which, obviously, is not creating a disincentive for people to continue to come in to the United States, because they understand that if they can make it here that they'll probably get to stay here. And that's an enormous pull factor that we need to balance out in order to make this, I think, a safer and more humane process.