EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — El Paso Congresswoman Veronica Escobar wants to bring back an Obama-era program she believes will cut down the masses of Central Americans that are showing up at the U.S. border.
The program was known as In-Country Processing and consisted of processing asylum claims from unaccompanied minors in their countries of origin rather than in the United States.
The Trump administration terminated the program, but Escobar says it’s time to bring it back and expand it to include not just minors, but entire families.
“I believe that abandoning this program forced people to make the rigorous journey to apply for asylum here. I would like to bring back that program, to expand it so folks don’t make that treacherous journey and don’t put the stress on communities and agents and nonprofits in border communities which are really struggling under a tremendous amount of people coming this way,” Escobar said.
The Democrat that represents Texas’ 16th District in the House of Representatives expanded on her immigration policy during a town hall meeting at Riverside High School before a mostly sympathetic audience.
However, she fielded some questions from members of the public who want something done about the surge in undocumented migrants of the past few months.
“I’m a compassionate guy, I think we should help people who come over that are desperate and in need of help. But I’ve spoken to a lot of immigrants who come over and they’re not all desperate. They just know that the gate is open right now,” said El Pasoan Ben Carnavale.
“I think that calling the Border Patrol cruel is unfair. They were not prepared for this. They’ve got 1,000 people sitting where there are only supposed to be 200 people. What are we supposed to do? Let them all in? You can’t do that. You gotta have some order. You gotta make sure you filter out the gang members, the drugs and the trafficking,” he said.
Escobar said she’s never called the Border Patrol “cruel.”
“When I say we should be a compassionate nation and that we should treat all people with respect doesn’t mean I’m un-American or pro-open borders,” she responded. “I’m not sitting on my hands and saying, ‘Let’s welcome everybody.’ I acknowledge that this is unsustainable for everybody,” she said.
However, “we should respect our asylum laws and people have a right to request asylum. I don’t believe that we should, as a government, be breaking our own laws.”
Escobar said she has made suggestions to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials who are already considering measures such as hiring civilians to do administrative processing of migrants, thus freeing up Border Patrol agents and CBP officers who are currently assigned those duties.
There are a number of civil data entry positions and other positions for which we don’t need law enforcement. That has been taken up by the acting commissioner of ICE to (hopefully) get our agents and officers back to the jobs that they want to do and that were trained to do at our ports of entry and along the border,” Escobar said.
The El Paso congresswoman said she favors stemming the migrant surge, but not by expanding the Migrant Protection Protocols, in which migrants have to wait in Mexico for their asylum hearings in the United States.
“I absolutely agree we have to stem the exodus. This is unsustainable. We cannot continue down this road. But you do that by working together with leaders in this hemisphere and not through cruelty, which is what the MPP — the Migrant Protection Program — is.”
She’s also uncomfortable with the continued housing of migrants at the Paso del Norte port of entry facility.
“As late as yesterday I saw more than 200 people at PDN. It was mostly single males, some women, and mostly Cubans. These are folks that normally the Border Patrol would apprehend and turn over to ICE, but that’s not happening. So the burden is falling on Border Patrol agents to figure out how to provide day to day for all of these folks living under these tents. It is not sustainable, not humane, not for the migrants, not for the agents, it’s a terrible situation,” she said.