DULUTH — Rep. Pete Stauber returned from a weekend visit to the U.S. border with Mexico, calling the situation he observed in El Paso, Texas, “a humanitarian crisis” as thousands of migrant children attempt to reach the United States every month.
It was the 8th Congressional District representative’s second visit to the country’s border with Mexico, following a similar fact-finding trip to Yuma, Ariz., in 2019. Stauber, R-Hermantown, and four other congressional Republicans visited El Paso as guests of Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-San Antonio.
“I wanted to see firsthand and get educated on the process and actually talk to those border patrol agents who do that professionally for a living," Stauber said in an interview. "I don't want to rely on any rhetoric from certain people or news outlets; I want to see it for myself.”
Stauber said he heard, through an interpreter, the story of a 16-year-old girl who was forced to choose between her baby and younger brother, leaving her brother behind after funds to pay for crossing assistance ran out.
Stauber blamed President Joe Biden’s decisions for exacerbating an influx of migrant children to America, along with what he called a “ninefold” increase in illegal narcotics crossing the border.
“Those drugs come right up to our northern Minnesota communities, and are killing our children and getting more people addicted,” Stauber said.
Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party Chairman Ken Martin called Stauber’s visit “grandstanding,” and said the Republican lawmaker has no interest in solving the crisis, only exploiting it for political gain.
“The Republicans had four years to fix the immigration system and only made it worse by ending DACA, gutting asylum and cutting legal immigration,” Martin said, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a President Barack Obama-era program that allowed children of undocumented migrants paths to citizenship.
“They have absolutely no solutions except cruelty and chaos,” Martin continued. “President Biden believes we can have a well-managed border and also treat people fairly and humanely.”
Stauber specifically targeted Biden’s decisions to end former President Donald Trump’s border-wall construction and cease Trump’s “remain in Mexico” policy for asylum seekers.
“Right now, the Biden administration says all unaccompanied children will be allowed to come into the country,” Stauber said. “So what does that do? It forces or allows the parents to make that decision to send their children northbound in the custody of the coyotes (border crossing guides) who work for the drug runners.”
Stauber met with pecan ranchers whose properties are near the border wall, but were left uncovered by it after Biden put a stop to border-wall expansion.
“They’re very concerned,” Stauber said. “Obviously, they have compassion for these people, but they’re finding people that cartels just left behind, either because they can’t keep up or there’s an injury.”
Minors and families agree to pay several thousands of dollars to cross the border illegally, leaving them ripe for exploitation and abuse, Stauber said.
“If you can’t pay, you become an indentured servant,” Stauber said. “You will pay the cartels back — you work it off and send the money back, because if you don’t they’re going to pay retribution on your family.”
Stauber added that border supervisors told him cartels use children to divert authorities' attention, while outflanking them with shipments of drugs.
“Every child has to have an agent or helper with them, and that is an enormous amount of personnel that is taken up for these groups of unaccompanied children,” he said.
President Biden has rolled back many of the former Admin’s immigration controls, including construction of the border wall. This has sparked a humanitarian and national security crisis at our southern border.— Pete Stauber (@RepPeteStauber) May 24, 2021
Last week, I travelled to the border to see this crisis firsthand. pic.twitter.com/fyn846MIDF
But Martin said it’s well-known and well-reported that most illegal drugs cross the border at legal ports of entry, which are experiencing reductions in crossings due to COVID-19 pandemic agreements between the U.S. and Mexico to allow only essential travel.
“To me, his visit is about scoring political points and not being part of the solution,” Martin said of Stauber. “Immigration should not be a partisan issue. We need to have people stop complaining and start proposing solutions."
Martin outlined Biden’s four-point immigration plan to:
- invest in the stability of Central America where countries such as Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala are fraught with civil unrest;
- establish refugee processing in the region to create more legal avenues for migration;
- strengthen other countries’ asylum processes, so the United States isn’t alone, and
- bring more technology to bear at the border, and more asylum judges to address the glut of cases.
“We need to address the root causes of immigration and migration that we’ve seen for many years coming from southern countries bordering with the United States,” Martin said, sure to make the point that Biden wasn't alone among presidents having to deal with southern border instability.
Stauber agreed more technology investments are necessary, citing technology he learned about from border supervisors which allows agents to process people from their vehicles, along with mobile platforms that offer increased night-time surveillance.
“The cameras can be extended up to see literally miles,” Stauber said. “In Congress, we need to support automated processing right on the spot.”
Stauber votes against Jan. 6 commission
Prior to leaving for the border last week, Stauber voted against a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of the former president.
He said he voted against the commission, because it wasn’t broad enough to include other political violence, and that Democrats would have been in control of who staffed the commission.
“I had concerns with the scope of the proposed commission,” Stauber said, citing “rioting and looting” in America’s cities during unrest last summer following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. “Political violence didn’t start on Jan. 6. … We have the ability to have a broadened scope.”
The DFL slammed Stauber and the state’s other federal Republican lawmakers for voting against the commission, calling it “disgraceful.”
Instead of choosing to defend democracy, a DFL statement last week said, “They chose to defend Donald Trump, the Republican Party, and a violent, lawless mob instead.”