WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, participated in a hearing entitled, ‘Oversight of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.’ There, he questioned the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Kevin K. McAleenan, on the number of unaccompanied minors and family units entering through Texas’ southern border illegally and the dangers and risks they experience.
Watch Sen. Cruz’s full line of questioning here. A full transcript is below.
Sen. Cruz: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Commissioner, welcome. Thank you for your service. And let me say thank you to the men and women of CBP. I’ve been proud to spend a great deal of time with the men and women you lead [who] have an incredibly difficult job, an incredibly important job. They risk their lives on a daily basis. And let me say thank you, for the important service you and the men and women you lead provide.
Hon. Kevin K. McAleenan: Thank you.
Sen. Cruz: As you know, the first six months of the Trump administration we saw illegal crossings plummet. We saw apprehensions at the border plummet. And since then, we’ve seen the numbers steadily increasing. To what do you ascribe that increase in illegal crossings?
Hon. Kevin K. McAleenan: The main factor–especially given the demographic changes we’re seeing–last month we had over 59 percent of crossings who were either families or unaccompanied children. They’re predominantly coming from Central America now–almost 70 percent in November. And all of these trends are just steepening at this point. We attribute that to the understanding the smugglers advertising, and the migrants understanding that they come as a family or if they claim fear of return, they’ll likely be allowed to stay indefinitely in the United States.
Sen. Cruz: So, can you put some specifics in the numbers? What increase have we seen in family units crossing illegally?
Hon. Kevin K. McAleenan: So, in June–actually if you want to go back to April or March of 2017 when that huge decrease, we had fewer than 10,000 people overall and very small numbers of families coming in. For instance, family units in April of FY’17 were 2,116. Last month was 30,154. So, to put a specific fine point–
Sen. Cruz: Now was that 30,000 family units? Or 30,000 people in family units?
Hon. Kevin K. McAleenan: 30,000 people in family units is how we count them.
Sen. Cruz: How about unaccompanied minors? What have we seen on the numbers there?
Hon. Kevin K. McAleenan: Unaccompanied minors have been more stable but have also gone up. We’re seeing about 5,000 a month right now.
Sen. Cruz: To what extent are y’all encountering either family units or unaccompanied minors who have been in the custody of human trafficking?
Hon. Kevin K. McAleenan: Almost exclusively. Human smuggling, we would refer to it.
Sen. Cruz: And to what extent are you seeing that these kids are being subjected to either physical abuse or sexual abuse in the process of being smuggled into the country?
Hon. Kevin K. McAleenan: A harrowing percentage Senator are being affected by sexual violence or other abuse in the process of their journey. Doctors Without Borders–an independent obviously humanitarian concern they operate over a dozen clinics in Mexico–they’ve stated 68 percent of the people that they interact with have been victims of violence on the journey, 38 percent of women and girls sexually assaulted. So, the figures are devastating. It’s not just U.S. government data. It’s NGO’s who are working with these populations to try to keep them safe.
Sen. Cruz: So, do you share my assessment that nobody concerned with compassion or humanity should want to see any little boys or any little girls in the custody of human traffickers or human smugglers?
Hon. Kevin K. McAleenan: What’s happening to some of the most vulnerable people in our hemisphere on this journey is deplorable. We need to work with Mexico to address these TCO’s. We need to work with Central America to address the push factors. And, we’ve got to decrease the incentive in our legal system to invite these people into this dangerous cycle.
Sen. Cruz: To what extent has the Flores settlement proven an impediment to dealing with this problem?
Hon. Kevin K. McAleenan: Well in 2014 when we saw the first family surge, then-Secretary of Homeland Security Jay Johnson was able to detain families together through an immigration proceeding and start removing them once we saw the stark trend. That created a huge deterrent. Immediately the numbers dropped of family units crossing. In 2015, a district court in California ruled that accompanied children–even if they have a parent with them–could not be kept in federal custody more than 20 days. That’s not long enough for an immigration proceeding with due process–which is our commitment. So as a result, we’ve seen family unit numbers climb really unabated but for the inauguration of President Trump in January 2017. But as soon as the migrants and smugglers realized the laws hadn’t fundamentally changed, we saw the families start to increase again to this level of 30,000 last month.
Sen. Cruz: What additional tools does CBP need to be able to effectively secure the border.
Hon. Kevin K. McAleenan: We have a border security improvement plan that we’ve submitted to Congress. We’re in the process of updating that border wall system as a fundamental capability for impedance and denial. We need more technology. We need better sensors for our air and marine operations. And of course, we need agents and officers. Also, we need technology at the ports of entry to address the counter-narcotics efforts that we’re trying to undertake there and get more vehicles and trucks through that screening as they enter Texas, as they enter the stream of commerce in the United States. So really, we need all four of those things and an integrated strategy.