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READ: Senate Judiciary Republicans Ask Pertinent Border-related Questions

AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool

Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and a coalition of GOP members sent a letter to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra over the "self-induced" crisis at the border. The senators want details on what DHS and HHS are doing to manage the escalating surge that's taking place.

According to the senators, Biden created the crisis at the border through a number of policy decisions, including rolling back the previous administration's policies that curtailed illegal immigration. Illegal aliens began flocking to the United States in anticipation of a Biden presidency in the months leading up to his inauguration.

"In keeping with this agenda, since January 20, President Biden and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have been aggressively reversing previous policies and replacing them with lax border security and enforcement policies that encourage immigrants to illegally migrate to the United States," the letter states. "President Biden also lent his support to a sweeping immigration proposal that, if passed, would grant mass amnesty with no strings attached to millions of illegal immigrants in the United States. Worse, the White House-backed immigration proposal makes no effort whatsoever to secure the southern border. Whether or not the Biden Administration wants to admit it, these policies have created a crisis situation."

The senators cited Customs and Border Protection (CBP) numbers as an area of grave concern. In January alone, 78,000 illegal aliens were detained, the highest number over the last decade. That number skyrocketed even more in February when 100,000 illegal aliens were detailed along the southern border, the highest number of apprehensions in February since 2006. For the month of March, CBP is on pace to surpass 120,000 apprehensions. The number of unaccompanied minors is four times higher than it was in the fall, with this year being anticipated as the highest number of unaccompanied minors and families in more than two decades.

Biden's catch and release policy was also called into question. Senators stated they heard reports that ICE plans to dump illegal aliens into the interior of the United States. If an area becomes too overwhelmed, they will be bused further away from the border. 

There is concern over the potential for coronavirus to spread through the catch and release policies, particularly as most illegal aliens and unaccompanied minors have traveled in large groups. There's a possibility that they have been exposed to COVID but are asymptomatic, something that could change once they arrive at their final destination. 

"Catch-and-release policies pose additional risks to public health in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Biden Administration has expressed a purported commitment to ending the pandemic; however, news reports suggest that it now plans to keep some who are apprehended by DHS personnel in custody for just 72 hours before releasing them into American communities," the letter reads. "Furthermore, according to reports, in the event that processing centers become filled to capacity, there are plans to allow some detainees to complete their 72 hour wait in designated hotels in American cities such as McAllen and El Paso, Texas, and Phoenix, Arizona."

The senators also raised questions about the Biden administration's vetting process, especially when unaccompanied minors are required to be sent to an HHS facility within 72 hours. The administration's plans to reopen facilities the Trump administration closed as well as proposals to open facilities in California and Virginia are "unprecedented and likely to create a complex logistical challenge."

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee laid out a number of specific questions they want answered by April 2:

  1. How many migrants has CBP encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border since January 20, 2021? Please provide daily totals and a breakdown of those apprehended by age and nationality. Among this group:
    a. How many have been classified as unaccompanied alien children?
    b. How many have been exempted from Title 42?
    c. How many have claimed asylum?
    d. How many have been screened by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for credible fear?
    e. How many have been tested for COVID-19 in total?
    f. Of the migrants who have been released into the interior of the United States, how many have been tested for COVID-19?
    g. How many have received a COVID-19 vaccine?
    h. How many have been apprehended as part of large groups of 100 or more people?

  2. Among those who have been tested for COVID-19:
    a. How long after entering DHS custody were they tested?
    b. How long after testing negative must individuals wait before they are released into the U.S.?
    c. Among those released into the U.S. after receiving a negative COVID-19 test, what follow-up does DHS do to ensure that they do not subsequently test positive?
    d. How many have tested positive for COVID-19?
    e. When an individual tests positive for COVID-19, what is the procedure DHS is following to ensure their health and safety and the health and safety of others?
    f. How many of those who have tested positive for COVID-19 have required hospitalization?
    g. How many have been identified as being part of clusters of other patients who have tested positive for COVID-19?
    h. What steps is DHS taking to trace the movements of those who have tested positive and identify other possible cases during the period where they were likely to have been infectious?

  3. Among those who have been apprehended as part of large groups of 100 or more people, how many have tested positive for COVID-19?

  4. Please describe any current plans developed by DHS to safeguard American communities receiving migrants released from DHS custody from the spread of COVID-19.

  5. Among those migrants listed as unaccompanied alien children:
    a. How many have been held at CBP facilities for longer than 72 hours?
    b. How many are in HHS facilities where CDC guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have been relaxed?

  6. Following the termination of the April 13, 2018, Memorandum of Agreement between ORR, ICE, and CBP, what steps are being taken to ensure that weaker vetting requirements don’t endanger the safety of minors?

  7. What is the medical basis for not subjecting unaccompanied alien children to the Title 42 prohibition on entry, while keeping the Title 42 entry prohibition in place against other categories of aliens?

  8. Regarding aliens waiting in Mexico under the Migrant Protection Protocols and who are currently being released into the United States:
    a. Are those aliens being paroled into the United States, and if so, may they apply for employment authorization?
    b. Are those aliens being released with a Notice to Appear in immigration court, and if so, how far out is the furthest date for such appearance that has been included in such a Notice?

  9. How many migrants does DHS currently project will cross the border this year? Of those, how many does DHS expect will be unaccompanied alien children? Please provide copies of all presentations or reports that have been prepared by DHS containing information related to the current and projected number of border crossings.

  10. Please provide a complete list of the current DHS or HHS facilities used to house UAC. With your response, for each facility on the list, please include: 1) the current number of UAC and staff, as well as maximum occupancy levels allowed under COVID-19 restrictions; 2) a detailed description of what, if any, COVID-19 protocols were changed in order to make room for additional UAC; 3) a copy of the facility’s operational plan to test for and prevent the spread of COVID-19; 4) a breakdown of monthly operating costs.

  11. Please provide a list of facilities that DHS and HHS plan to open in the future in order to house migrants and UAC, including their intended operating capacities under normal conditions and under current COVID-19 restrictions. How many facilities do DHS and HHS currently plan to open, and how many do you project that they will need to open by the end of 2021?

  12. Is DHS currently working to co-locate HHS personnel to U.S. Border Patrol stations?

  13. Please describe any plans for HHS personnel to match unaccompanied children with sponsors while they are still held at DHS facilities.

  14. On March 8, Secretary Mayorkas sent an email to the DHS workforce in which he stated that he had “activated the Volunteer Force to support Customs and Border Protection (CBP) as they face a surge in migration along the Southwest Border.” The email also described the number of migrants showing at the southern border as “overwhelming.”
    a. From which agencies are these volunteers being pulled, and what analysis has been done regarding the additional strain that this action will put on those agencies?
    b. What is the level of exposure that this Volunteer Force will have to illegal immigrants who may have COVID-19?
    c. What specific role with this Volunteer Force be fulfilling, how long will they be deployed, and what is the additional cost that the taxpayer will bear as a result of this deployed force?

The letter is co-signed by Sens. Tom Tillis (NC), Josh Hawley (MO), Ted Cruz (TX), Marsha Blackburn (TN), Mike Lee (UT), Tom Cotton (AR), and John Kennedy (LA).

You read the full letter here.                                

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