Cornyn, Cruz lead another GOP delegation on border tour of RGV

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Texas Sens. Ted Cruz, left, and John Cornyn address the media during a border tour at Anzalduas Park in Mission in Friday, Oct. 27, 2023. (Dina Arevalo | [email protected])

MISSION — Illegal immigration is a disaster of unprecedented proportions, and the blame lies squarely at the feet of President Joe Biden.

That was the message that a small delegation of Republican senators — led by Texas’ own John Cornyn and Ted Cruz — conveyed to a gaggle of media at Anzalduas Park during a brief stop of their border tour on Friday.

“The Rio Grande Valley is one of my favorite places to come. … This is a vibrant part of our state. It’s unique,” Cornyn said as the waters of the Rio Grande flowed placidly behind him.

Texas’ senior senator said he’s fond of bringing colleagues to the Valley to show them its role in binational trade, but also to see what he characterized as the disastrous effects of illegal immigration.

“We have something special here, but, unfortunately, it’s being spoiled by the Biden administration’s reckless policies that do nothing to deter illegal immigration,” Cornyn said.

Moments earlier, the senators had arrived at the county park’s docks in five U.S. Border Patrol SAFE boats which had wended across a deep U-shaped bend in the river.

Their paths cut directly past a group of men who were recreating on the Mexican side. One pair of men stood languidly casting fishing lines while another pair explored what a wooden dock overgrown with carrizo cane and a lone, but tenacious palm tree.

By the time the senators had disembarked, however, the fishermen and swimmers were gone.

Cornyn arrived first aboard a boat with Utah Sen. Mike Lee and Border Patrol RGV Sector Chief Gloria Chavez, who did not join the senators ashore.

Meanwhile, Cruz arrived in another boat accompanied by Nebraska Sen. Pete Ricketts.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R, Texas, addresses the media during a a brief stop of a border tour at Anzalduas Park in Friday, Oct. 27, 2023. (Dina Arevalo | [email protected])

“South Texas is an extraordinary place,” Cruz said, echoing Cornyn’s earlier comments from a lectern bearing a sign that read “SECURE THE BORDER.”

“And South Texas is paying the price for the disaster of the open borders under the Biden administration,” he added.

Over the course of the next 20 minutes, the four conservative senators detailed the disasters they said are fueled by “historic” levels of illegal immigration, from concerns over women and children being sexually assaulted, to forced labor, to fears that Hamas and Hezbollah extremists could sneak into the country to wage terrorism here.

The senators bolstered those concerns by noting that migrant demographics are changing.

“Historically, immigration was poor people coming from Mexico, Central America, that wanted to work in the United States,” Cornyn said.

“Today, people are traveling literally from around the world and showing up at the ports of entry and claiming asylum,” he continued.

Statistics released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection bear that out.

Between January and September of this year, border agents have had nearly 2.05 million encounters with migrants, according to CBP data.

Of that number, approximately half, or 1,026,419, hail from Mexico and the Golden Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

Another 1,019,419 come from other countries, though the data does not break down which counties specifically.

Riding aboard a U.S. Border Patrol SAFE boat, Texas Sen. John Cornyn is seen moving past two men fishing on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande near Anzalduas Park in Mission on Friday, Oct. 27, 2023. (Dina Arevalo | [email protected])

With three months still left in the year, the number of migrant encounters is on pace to exceed 2022’s nearly 2.21 million encounters.

But while the numbers have risen along the southwest border as a whole, things in the Valley have looked quite different.

Here, the numbers tend to fluctuate, said McAllen Assistant City Manager Jeff Johnston, who is in charge of operating the city’s migrant respite center.

Over the last 18 months, the center has temporarily housed varying numbers of migrants in tents located just a few hundred yards from where the senators spoke Friday.

After a brief spike when Title 42 ended in May, the number of migrants passing through the respite center dropped throughout the summer before ticking upward to a peak of about 775 per day in September, Johnston said.

“Right now, that number is probably somewhere between 175 and maybe 275 per day, so it’s dropped quite a bit just in the last couple of weeks,” he said, adding that less than a hundred migrants are currently housed at the center.

CBP data shows that migrant encounters have remained higher in the El Paso and Del Rio sectors for several months.

Some of the senators’ other talking points contained similar levels of mixed accuracy.

For instance, both Cornyn and Cruz derided the Biden administration for allowing a policy of catch-and-release to proliferate.

“Because of the sheer volume of people coming across, the Biden administration is simply releasing them into the interior of the United States without any real consequences,” Cornyn said, further characterizing the practice as the president “outsourcing immigration to drug cartels.”

Two swimmers are seen on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande as two U.S. Border Patrol SAFE boats approach the docks at Anzalduas Park in Mission in Friday, Oct. 27, 2023. (Dina Arevalo | [email protected])

Cruz echoed those sentiments minutes later when speaking of how “frustrated” Border Patrol agents have become.

“They’re deeply frustrated because they risk their lives apprehending people only to turn around and see them let go over and over and over again,” Cruz said.

But the practice isn’t unique to the current president.

Instead, the phrase “catch-and-release” first originated during the presidency of George W. Bush by former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff to describe an immigration policy practice that was then already decades old.

The senators also expressed their concerns for the tribulations migrants go through on their journey to the United States — particularly women and children, some of whom suffer sexual abuse along the way, they said.

“This is a modern-day form of slavery and it is allowed to go on by Joe Biden. It’s that simple,” Ricketts, the Nebraska senator, said.

“This is a humanitarian crisis. South Texas sees the thousands of children abused, sees the thousands of women sexually abused, sees the dead bodies,” Cruz said alluding to an earlier meeting the senators had had with Brooks County Sheriff Urbino “Benny” Martinez.

The sheriff had shown the congressional coterie photos of “bleached bones,” Cornyn said — human remains left behind by migrants who have died trying to circumvent the Falfurrias Border Patrol checkpoint in the unforgiving Texas ranchlands.

Texas Sen. John Cornyn, left, is seen speaking with RGV Border Patrol Sector Chief Gloria Chavez aboard a SAFE boat near Anzalduas Park in Friday, Oct. 27, 2023. (Dina Arevalo | [email protected])