EL PASO, Texas — Sen. Sherrod Brown said a 25-year-old immigrant’s words summed up what he learned during a tour at the U.S.-Mexico border Sunday.
“I don’t know what it means to be without anxiety,” said Senaida Navar, who is currently protected from deportation under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals but whose father was recently deported. “And so that really is not a dignified way to live.”
“I would love it if my colleagues in the Congress heard that,” Brown, a Democrat, told Navar during an event organized by the Border Network for Human Rights to discuss what immigrants and other migrants are experiencing at the border.
Ohio’s other senator, Republican Rob Portman, was at the border Friday, joining Vice President Mike Pence on a tour of migrant detention facilities in McAllen, Texas.
“It should now be clear to everyone that we have a crisis on our southern border. This trip reinforced for me that the situation is dire and Congress needs to take bipartisan action now to alleviate the crisis,” Portman said in a statement.
“I return to Washington more convinced than ever that we need new laws to address three fundamental problems that, if not addressed, will continue to draw unprecedented numbers of people to the border, allow migrants to continue to be exploited by human smugglers and put in dangerous situations, and overwhelm our system,” Portman said.
In El Paso, Brown was critical of President Trump’s policies and rhetoric about immigration.
“To talk about immigrants the way he does, especially to say we would want more people from Norway and fewer people that don’t look like they’re from Norway is not who we are as a country,” he said.
Brown said the United States should be a refuge for people fleeing violence and persecution.
“It doesn’t mean we have open borders and let everybody in, of course,” he said. “It does mean, if somebody has been victimized by drug violence or if they’ve been kidnapped or almost kidnapped, that we ought to say come to our country and we know you’ll work hard.”
At the Border Network for Human Rights roundtable, Brown heard from Belkis Turcios, a Honduran mother who described hellish conditions when she and her two children were taken into Border Patrol custody and then forced to return to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. She said they were forced to sleep outdoors on rocks for several days while in Border Patrol custody and faced constant threats when they were in Juarez.
“It was very hard for me to see my (6-year-old) daughter cry. It was very hard for me seeing her being treated as if she was a criminal, as if she represented some sort of threat,” Turcios said.
El Paso has seen the largest growth of migrant crossings on the border in the past year, with Border Patrol agents taking more than 155,000 migrants into custody between October and June, a seven-fold increase over the same period a year ago.
However, the number of crossings has dropped dramatically in recent weeks and the Border Patrol’s El Paso sector is currently holding fewer than 300 people, down from more than 5,000 in May.
During his El Paso visit, Brown met with Department of Homeland Security officials and agents and toured a migrant shelter operated by the El Paso nonprofit Annunciation House.
While he was at the Annunciation House shelter, Immigration and Customs Enforcement dropped off 115 migrants who had been released from custody and allowed to travel to join family in the United States while courts handle their immigration cases. Those numbers are down from a few weeks ago, when ICE and Border Patrol were routinely releasing 700 to 1,000 migrants per day in El Paso, Annunciation House director Ruben Garcia told Brown.
Garcia said the number of people trying to cross the border in El Paso has dropped primarily because of “Mexican enforcement on steroids.” To stave off Trump’s threats to impose tariffs on Mexican imports, that country’s government agreed last month to increase its efforts to interdict migrants before they can cross the U.S. border.
Other factors for slowing migration include the summer heat and a Trump administration program called Migrant Protection Protocols, which is forcing thousands of Central American migrants to stay in violence-plagued Mexican border cities while their immigration cases are decided by U.S. courts, Garcia told Brown.
“I think smugglers are standing down. I think that when you have so many things change simultaneously, smugglers tend to simply stand still to kind of see how this thing is going to play out,” Garcia said.
Brown criticized DHS officials for limiting his access to detention facilities, especially places holding children. He said officials blamed limited weekend staffing.
“I met many public servants who were doing their job well and are doing it honorably. I don’t blame them,” Brown said. “I look at people at the top and pretty clearly the attorney general and the president and the president’s Cabinet don’t want the American public to know what they’re doing when they separate children from families.”