McALLEN, Texas — While reporters were kept from entering the McAllen Border Patrol station on Saturday where roughly 1,000 illegal immigrants — mainly children — were being held, a local Texas congressman made clear he wasn't going to be kept out, and spent several hours talking to the children and Border Patrol agents inside.
Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat, told TheBlaze he wanted to see for himself the difficult conditions the Border Patrol agents are dealing with concerning the large migration of people from Central America to the U.S. over the past eight months. He also wanted to check on the condition of the children being temporarily housed in the overcrowded facility in the Rio Grande Valley border sector.
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) in McAllen, Texas, on June 14, 2014. He visited the McAllen Border Patrol station because he wanted to see for himself the condition of the nearly 1,000 illegal immigrants being housed in the small facility and to speak with Border Patrol agents who complained that their resources are being strained because of the growing crisis. (Photo: Sara A. Carter, TheBlaze)
"I've been saying, 'Use the nonprofits, use the churches don't just use the taxpayers' dollars to take care of these young kids,'" Cuellar said. "[President Barack Obama] still has a long way to go to improve this. Don't just listen to the words of the bureaucrats up there in Washington, listen to the men and women that work here. The men and women of the Border Patrol know what's going on here."
Another facility is expected to open July 11 to process the children who are now being held with adults at the McAllen station. In the past several weeks, the U.S. Coast Guard, Federal Emergency Management Agency and the national service program AmeriCorps have sent specialists to help take care of the children's needs and to alleviate some of the strain on the overworked agents.
Approximately 300 of the roughly 1,000 people in the facility are being housed in the sally port, a controlled-entry garage normally used to unload illegal immigrants so they can't run off, Border Patrol staff who work in the facility said. There are only eight portable toilets in the holding facility and two are designated for people with infectious diseases.
Cuellar said Border Patrol agents and medical staff have confirmed cases of highly contagious diseases among the illegal immigrants, including tuberculosis, chickenpox and scabies.
"In fact, some of the Border Patrol [agents] have been affected by this" and are concerned about transmitting diseases to their own families if they get exposed, Cuellar said.
Cuellar said he spoke to many immigrants who told him that violence and economic problems in their home countries forced them to leave and come to the United States. He spoke at length with a 12-year-old girl who made the dangerous journey from Honduras on her own.
He said smuggling organizations are taking advantage of the lack of enforcement policies and the failure by lawmakers to come up with a new immigration policy. He called the current crisis a "Cuba defacto policy," whereby those who make it across the border won't be returned home, much like the current "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy that allows Cubans who make it to the mainland to stay in the United States.
"If you're a pregnant girl or you're a family unit, they are going to give you a piece of paper where you have to promise to show up [to court] within 90 days and I tell you, they are not going to show up within 90 days," Cuellar told reporters. "If they paid thousands of dollars and traveled hundreds and hundreds of miles to get over here and face very violent situations, I doubt that they're going to show up once they're here in the United States."
It's the "children who are suffering because of these failed policies," he added.
The constant flow of human trafficking is straining law enforcement resources all across the roughly 2,000-mile southwest border and it's not predicted to slow down: An estimated 60,000 illegal immigrant children are expected to enter the United States this year, a number that will increase to more than 130,000 by 2015, according to Border Patrol agents who spoke with TheBlaze and to administration estimates.
Many Border Patrol agents who spoke with TheBlaze also blamed the immigrant surge on failed immigration policies and on unspoken policies they said prohibit them from doing their jobs. They said the humanitarian crisis is man-made and creates a national security risk because Border Patrol agents are forced to spend more than 40 percent of their time taking care of paperwork and looking for children, while many of the smuggling corridors are being left unguarded.
Border Patrol Agent Chris Cabrera, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council's Local 3077 in the Rio Grande Valley sector, said most of the agents he works with all say the same thing: "Pretty much, this is bulls--t.”
He said the overcrowded facilities and the lack of resources are making it difficult for the agents to do their jobs.
“The agents are extremely frustrated by the fact that these people are getting released,” Cabrera said. “We're facilitating the illegal entry into the United States. It's like we've become part of the smuggling process.”
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