According to recent numbers shared by Customs and Border Protection (CBP), agents have encountered over 200,000 migrants at our southern border in July alone. Daily encounters are estimated at around 6,779 individuals per day, reaching the highest levels of illegal border crossings in over 21 years.
The surge of migrants at our southern border combined with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in an unprecedented humanitarian and health crisis. Thousands of migrants including unaccompanied minors are enduring progressively worse health conditions, and our CBP agents are becoming overwhelmed as our southern border facilities reach beyond maximum capacity.
For the thousands of individuals and families who make the trek to the United States, they encounter harsh weather conditions that in some cases lead to extreme dehydration and even death. Some face violent cartels looking to profit from smuggling human beings into the United States, or worse, cartels that kidnap young women and children and sell them into sex slavery. CBS News reports “a flood of drugs coming into this country at the US-Mexico border” and the “deadly consequences” of drug cartels “seizing opportunity”. The cartels are making billions from human and drug smuggling and are further emboldened.
As a mother, the thought that children as young as three years old are enduring these conditions, in some cases unaccompanied, is heartbreaking. Earlier this year, I sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) calling on them to conduct appropriate background checks of sponsors to which unaccompanied minors may be put in the care of.
Over the last few months, the number of border crossings and drugs smuggled into our country—including fentanyl, which kills tens of thousands of Americans every year, are on the rise and continue to increase. Due to the large number of migrants crossing, CBP agents are being pulled off the border to help with intake and processing, which undermines border security.
In March, I introduced the Requiring Every Alien Receive a COVID-19 Test (REACT) Act. Under current law, there is no requirement for individuals released from CBP or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody to test negative for COVID-19. The REACT Act would require CBP and ICE to administer a diagnostic test and receive a negative result, for COVID-19 to an inadmissible alien who has entered the United States.
I have traveled to the border twice this year to speak with CBP officers. I have seen firsthand the crisis they are facing. To date, approximately 50% of agents have tested positive for COVID-19 and very few migrants are being tested. My REACT Act would require that every migrant released from CBP or ICE custody is tested and receives a negative test. Border security and immigration is not an issue that only affects border states, it affects every community across the country. We can help keep our communities safe and healthy by ensuring that individuals entering the country are negative for COVID-19.
As the former Director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, I know the COVID-19 pandemic is not over. We must ensure individuals who are released into our communities do not have COVID-19. This is a matter of public safety, national security, and public health that must be addressed immediately.