Last month we visited the Rio Grande Valley sector of our southern border near McAllen, Texas. We toured the Hidalgo Port of Entry — a large pedestrian access and processing point for individuals, families and unaccompanied minors.
We saw the Donna Holding Facility, a large temporary facility for processing families who cross the border between the legal ports of entry. The Donna facility was added because Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is limited in funding, so there is no place to temporarily house thousands of people in Border Patrol custody. A dramatic spike in men traveling with a child has created a massive influx of illegal migrants with nowhere to hold them.
We also visited the very crowded Rio Grande Valley Centralized Processing Center in McAllen, a permanent facility first utilized in 2014-15 to house and process migrant children. It is now also used to hold families because half of the men crossing the border bring a child.
We were given complete access in every facility. In every location we found shelves full of food, water, clothing and hygiene products. The facilities also had air conditioning, medical care, showers, washers and dryers, and phones for migrants to use.
Southern border is a smuggler's hive
Our older border facilities were designed for single individuals who were processed and returned to Mexico quickly if they lacked legal justification to be in the United States. In the Rio Grande Valley area alone, people from at least 60 countries — including Afghanistan, Syria, Bangladesh, China, Yemen, Pakistan, Cuba, Venezuela and many other Asian and African nations — have been apprehended this year.
This is not just a Central America problem; the southern border has become a conduit for homicidal cartels to illegally smuggle people from around the world by exploiting the loophole in our immigration law that allows minors and those who travel with minors to quickly enter the country.
Sometimes, children travel to our border with their parents or with another adult in their family or from their village. We were told that some children are being "rented" by smugglers to help adult males easily cross the border and remain in the United States for years while they await their hearing. Children continue to be abandoned, abused or face severe conditions once their purpose is served.
Only Congress can close the child migrant loopholes that encourage child smuggling.
Abolishing ICE will worsen problems
The flood of migrants has created an undeniable humanitarian crisis. The recent exponential increases are a direct result of our outdated immigration laws and the snowball effect of refusing to properly fund ICE. Border Patrol agents are doing everything they can to manage a humanitarian crisis they are neither trained nor equipped to handle. If our Democratic colleagues continue to work to defund or abolish ICE, people will continue to stack up at the border with nowhere to go.
Yet the only complaint we heard from federal agents at the border was their consistent frustration that some in Washington and the news media continue to tell false stories about them and their work. None claimed law enforcement is above reproach, but all of them could tell stories about lives they saved, drugs they stopped and ways they personally served individuals and families. But few people want to tell that side of the story because it does not accomplish the goal of demeaning those who serve in federal law enforcement or the administration.
We allow about 500,000 people each day to legally cross our southern border to shop, work or do business in the United States. We allow more than 700,000 people each year to legally become U.S. citizens. We have problems in our legal immigration system, but we still allow hundreds of thousands to legally come each year. However, if we ignore our illegal entry problem, we just help the cartels and ignore the real humanitarian crisis. We can and must address the challenges at our border.
It’s time we stop child smuggling and human trafficking, fix the loopholes that exist in our immigration laws, and support the hardworking women and men of our federal law enforcement.
James Lankford is a Republican senator from Oklahoma. Joni Ernst is a Republican senator from Iowa. Bill Cassidy is a Republican senator from Louisiana. Follow them on Twitter: @SenatorLankford, @SenJoniErnst and @SenBillCassidy
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Border crisis: US-Mexico border is a hub for illegal child smuggling