On Monday, Aug. 12, I joined a group of 20 state legislators from across the United States in visiting the United States-Mexico border to see the realities of what is happening and how it impacts non-border states.
We flew to the border from Austin via Texas Army National Guard Chinook helicopters. During the safety briefing, Brig. Gen. Jeffery Burkett thanked all our states for the assistance during Hurricane Harvey two years ago. The entire Texas National Guard helicopter airwing was on deployment overseas, leaving Texas without a single helicopter. Within 24 hours, they had 22 aircraft, including two Chinooks from the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. Without this interstate cooperation, Texas’s recovery from Hurricane Harvey would have suffered. This just shows the importance of the National Guard and I thank Gov. Tom Wolf for sending this mutual aid help.
Just like with Hurricane Harvey, Wolf should send Pennsylvania National Guard components to assist Texas and other state with border security. President Donald Trump authorized this, which means the federal government will pick up the entire cost of the Pennsylvania National Guard mission for border security, leaving no financial impact to our state’s budget.
During our briefing at the McAllen United States Border Patrol Station, the busiest station in the county, we had the opportunity to hear from a young lieutenant from the Kentucky National Guard about the operational learning experience. He told us about how important it is to train in real-time situations. The integration of federal, state and local law enforcement also allows our Pennsylvania National Guard to gain critical experience on working with multi-agency task forces.
Furthermore, as our military has been asked to conduct international policing missions, the Pennsylvania National Guard would benefit from the mission to secure the border. Deploying the guard to the border will allow guard personnel to learn law enforcement procedures to better prepare them for deployments. Finally, the Pennsylvania Air National Guard operates MQ-9 Reapers from Willow Grove Air National Guard Base in Montgomery County. Drones, such as these, are a critical tool in border security and our airmen can gain additional real-life, operational training prior to combat operations. As seen, sending Pennsylvania National Guard units to participate in border security missions provides a tremendous training asset, which would enhance their capabilities and personal growth.
Outside of the benefits to our National Guard, securing the southern border is a necessity for the public safety of the Commonwealth. It is projected that 60% of the illegal drugs that flow through the southern border are moved throughout the United States, including Pennsylvania. Additionally, the cartels smuggle thousands of people into our country with many becoming victims of human trafficking. If we want to reduce drug addictions and combat human trafficking, we must secure the border.
Unfortunately, the Mexico drug cartels have learned if they overwhelm the border with people, it ties up the entire border security system and allows more drugs to get across the border. Texas captures an average of 1,000 illegal aliens a day, which cans pike to 2,400. About 5% to 7% of the individuals are criminals. About 1 in 3, or 33%, of females are sexually assaulted during illegal border crossings. Mexican drug cartels are paid anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 per person to smuggle them into the United States, which reflects a $53 million a week in profit for the drug cartels for human trafficking. If these individuals are not picked up by the U.S. Border patrol, many are taken to “safe houses,” where they are held for sexual or labor slavery.
The border protection system is overwhelmed from the border patrol agents to human services. Without securing the border, it will be impossible to address the failed immigration policies we currently have. For instance, as we visited the McAllen Processing Facility, where newly captured illegal aliens are initially processed and held for up to 72 hours, they struggle to deal with unaccompanied minors. Federal law does not recognize uncles, aunts or siblings as legal guardians, causing customs and border patrol agents to use resources to find their mothers or fathers in the United States.
While visiting the processing facility, I saw firsthand the humanitarian treatment of the illegal aliens. As they are brought in, they are given an initial medical screening, followed by a more in-depth screening. If there is a major medical concern, the person is taken to a local hospital for treatment. They are all given three meals a day, shown children’s movies, given new clothing and provided with shower and bathroom facilities. I noticed the numerous pallets of juice boxes and diapers. So far, this fiscal year, McAllen Processing Facility has spent $1.9 million on clothing alone.
After the processing center, families and unaccompanied minors are released. Adult males are sent to a detention facility, and if they do not have a criminal background, are released within 20 days with a date to show up for an immigration hearing.
A tremendous recent change has been Mexico engaging in border security. Right now, they are working to stop illegal immigration and drug smuggling on the Mexico side of the border. This partnership with Mexico and fully building a wall will be the biggest gamechangers in the short-term. But Congress must address the immigration policies. Unfortunately, immigration is campaign rhetoric rather than a comprehensive policy discussion as Trump, has expressed on several occasions his interest to meet Democratic leadership on a compromise.
In closing, the situation along the southern border is a national crisis. It impacts every state and every taxpayer. Gov. Wolf and our National Guard leadership should at least go visit the southern border and learn how we, as Pennsylvanians, can effect positive change.
Representative Seth Grove
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Greg Gross