While lawmakers debate how to address the growing humanitarian crisis at the southern border, many are leaving the beltway to assess the situation firsthand.
Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) recently traveled to five different facilities in McAllen, Texas, where 40% of the illegal crossings at the border take place.
"In that one small area, they have 1,500-2,000 people every single day that illegally cross the border at that point," Lankford told CBN News.
Lankford wants to clear up misconceptions about Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. While many of his Democrat colleagues want to defund ICE, Lankford argues it is the force best equipped and designed to handle the people at the heart of this situation.
"A couple years ago my Democrat colleagues started focusing on 'abolish ICE' or 'defund ICE.' Well ICE is the institute for the federal government that actually holds people who are going through the processing," explains Lankford. "Until we can get our people to agree that ICE needs to be funded as well we'll continue to have people in overcrowded facilities."
I am grateful for the women & men who continue to serve at the US-Mexico border. After my trip to the border, it is even more clear that there is a serious crisis at our border that Congress must address. pic.twitter.com/lx54pCLL51
— Sen. James Lankford (@SenatorLankford) July 26, 2019
Lankford highlighted this point while questioning Acting Commissioner of US Customs and Border Patrol Mark Morgan this week.
"So my simple question to you is: are your facilities designed and set up to hold thousands of people? Is that the mission of Customs and Border Patrol?" asked Lankford.
"Absolutely not, senator. We've stated that again and again and again," responded Morgan.
"So, I'm a little frustrated that our conversation seems to be: what can we do to help Customs and Border Patrol be better at detaining people, when that's not even the mission of Customs and Border Patrol," continued Lankford.
"You just outlined the answer, we fund ICE," replied Morgan.
Lankford says he believes the solution to the border crisis is obvious: get additional money for ICE, change asylum laws so people who legitimately qualify can actually get it in a timely manner, and fix the Flores agreement.
"This Flores agreement was done years ago, but it says if you travel with a child or you are a child that is 17 years old or younger than you can only be in detention for 20 days, then you get released in the country," explains Lankford.
The problem with this he claims is that drug cartels are exploiting this law.
"Fifty percent of the men crossing the border now have a child with them," says Lankford – adding that number five years ago was just one percent.
"The cartels know, add a child to this group and then everybody gets in. The problem is you can't get criminal records from their home country in 20 days," argues Lankford. "They're literally coming into the country, we can't get criminal records in time, we don't know anything about this person and they get released into the country."
"Border patrol told me they released someone they later found out had a murder warrant back in their home country," continued Lankford. "They released a different person that was a pedophile back in their home country."
And when asked about conditions at the facilities he saw, Lankford said they were mixed.
"Every facility I went to, I asked to see their supply room. In all five of those facilities I could see diapers, hygiene products, toothbrushes, snacks, water, changes of clothes, they wash everyone's clothes in every single location when they get there," he explained. "So there is all of those basic necessities that are there, showers and toilets and sinks all of those things – they have all those. But in some of those facilities they're very overcrowded, some of the facilities were very spacious."
"The border patrol will be the first to be able to tell you we don't want to have this many people, but if additional funding is not given to ICE they literally have nowhere to put those individuals," he continued.
Lankford claims many border patrol agents are giving their own money to buy supplies for detained individuals.
"There are lots of stories of border patrol agents going above and beyond in doing what they can to be able to take care of people, and it's very hard for them to be able to see some of the news to see if one bad thing happens all the news says that's the way all border patrol agents are and it's just not," he explained.
"When I met with the border patrol agents, one of the first things that some of them said was this is really who we are this is really what we're doing, we're trying to take care of people the best way we possibly can," says Lankford. "And they're very frustrated that some people come to the border and use that moment to argue against them after they've seen the truth. The truth is they really do have hygiene products but there really are crowded facilities, and they need to have some of these folks moved to ICE which is the normal next place. As long as we don't have funding for ICE, we're going to continue to have this issue."