Op-ed: The Biden Administration Owns the Human Tragedy at the Southern Border

Washington, D.C. – After reports from the New York Times and Washington Post about migrant children being used to abuse child labor laws, Congressman Michael C. Burgess, M.D. (R-TX), Vice Chairman of the House Rules Committee, drafted an op-ed about how the crisis at the southern border was a lesson on how to take a bad problem and make it worse.

"The Biden Administration Owns the Human Tragedy at the Southern Border"
Washington Examiner
By Congressman Michael C. Burgess, M.D. 
Read the entire op-ed here

On a trip to the southern border in 2014, I witnessed firsthand the extreme conditions facing unaccompanied alien children (UAC). Now, almost 10 years later, it is even more disturbing to hear reports of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra comparing these children to assembly line widgets. Becerra reportedly said of the asylum process, “If Henry Ford had seen this in his plants, he would have never become rich and famous. This is not the way you do an assembly line.”

Our immigration system has long been broken, but it has become astonishingly cruel because of the open border policies of the Biden administration. Here the sad reality is that children are used as pawns to game our immigration system constantly. Smugglers know that an adult arriving in the U.S. with a child is granted entry, while single adults are more likely to be turned away.

To clamp down on smuggling, the Trump administration placed children in the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) while their parent or arriving adult went through initial judicial proceedings. Many decried this as inhumane and cruel. We all remember the pictures of “kids in cages” — though the media conveniently left out the fact that the pictures had been taken in 2014, under the Obama administration.

There’s a reason both the Obama and Trump administrations followed this policy. Due to comprehensive reform and congressional oversight, ORR housing facilities are much better suited to care for migrant children who have suffered physical, mental, and emotional trauma due to the dangerous journey to our southern border.

This wasn’t always the case. Almost a decade ago, ORR’s facilities were not equipped with doctors or an adequate number of care providers. Additionally, there were reported abuses and misconduct at these facilities.

But after persistent oversight and engagement by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, ORR vastly improved the quality of care for UACs. Children began to receive physical and mental health screenings. They were administered regular vaccines, and they received wellness check-in calls once they were placed with sponsors. In addition, HHS began working with the Department of Homeland Security to verify the identity of sponsors through DNA analysis since many children were being released to a human trafficker instead of a family member.

Under the Biden administration, these practices have been largely abandoned. In fact, a recent New York Times article confirmed what Customs and Border Protection informed me of in June 2022: UACs are being released to non-parent relatives or supposed family friends based on guidance from DHS. Not only is this illegal under current law, but it is also dangerous for unaccompanied children and perpetuates the pull of human trafficking.

The U.S. government cannot control immigrants’ decisions to attempt to enter this country illegally. But it can stop providing perverse incentives for human smugglers by delivering the message that our borders are not open.

Last year alone, nearly 130,000 UACs crossed the southern border unlawfully. It is critical that Congress works to protect these children and reduce the demand for human trafficking. There is no simple solution, but enforcing our laws is the first essential step. That’s why I have introduced legislation to enforce our laws and help address the root causes of unlawful migration.

The Protecting an Alien child’s Reasonable Expectation of No Trafficking Act, or simply the PARENT Act, would require that CBP place a UAC in the custody of a verified parent, legal guardian, or HHS.

I also put forward the Unaccompanied Alien Children Assistance Control Act, which would require the president to reduce aid to the Northern Triangle countries based on how many UACs from each of those countries are placed in U.S. custody. I understand from my travels to the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras that life is difficult, but each faces problems that cannot be solved by pumping more money into the region. The leaders of these countries must take care of their own citizens, just as the U.S. must take care of its own.

Ultimately, the human tragedy at the southern border lies at the feet of those who refuse to enforce the law: President Joe Biden, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, and DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Congress can and will take action to alleviate the crisis. But it starts and ends at the top.