A Marine who was in Afghanistan when that country fell to the Taliban and who now lives in Texas told lawmakers he’s seen more dead bodies from migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border than he did during his tour of duty.
Sen. Joni Ernst, who herself saw time in Iraq in 2003 and 2004, met the man during a trip to the border late last week and recounted his story to The Washington Times, saying she had just been comparing the border to a “war zone,” then talked to the Marine who made the same comparison.
“He said, ‘I feel like I am in Afghanistan all over again.’ He said, ‘I have seen more dead bodies here’ than he did in Afghanistan. He said, ‘Replace the Taliban with the cartel,’ because they are basically the same type of organization: they control all of the land there, they control who goes in, who goes out,” Ms. Ernst said.
The Iowa Republican was part of a delegation of senators who made the trip to the border to get a first-hand look at the continuing chaos under the Biden administration.
Their trip coincided with Homeland Security’s release of border numbers from June, which showed more than 207,000 people were nabbed by Customs and Border Protection agents and officers.
That’s down compared to May, which the Biden administration trumpeted as a sign of improvement.
“While fluctuations are normal from month to month, we saw a 14 percent decrease in encounters compared to the previous month,” CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus said in announcing the new data.
Digging into the numbers, there were some worrying trends.
While the number of migrants traveling as family units — at least one parent and minor child — dropped, the number of illegal immigrant children traveling unaccompanied rose to more than 15,000.
And the Border Patrol reports nabbing 56 people this fiscal year whose names were on the terrorism screening database. As of May that figure stood at 50, meaning six new suspects were caught in June alone.
This is shaping up as the worst year on record by far for terrorism activity on the southern border. In 2021, just 15 terrorism suspects were arrested by the Border Patrol, and before that agents tallied just 11 arrests combined for 2017 through 2020.
CBP has not offered an explanation for the surge.
Analysts say the record number of border-jumpers being caught is likely a troubling indicator that even more are getting through — including terrorism suspects.
Of the 207,416 migrants that were caught in June, just 92,273 were pushed back into Mexico under the Title 42 pandemic health emergency policy. Roughly 72,000 others were processed and released directly at the border, while most of the rest were expected to be released after transfer to another federal agency in the interior.
The fact that most coming are successful in their objective — getting released — is enticing more to make the journey, Ms. Ernst said.
She said the Border Patrol agents and others she spoke with at the border in Texas said the key is to hold them in detention until their cases are heard. If they have valid claims they can then be released, but if they lose their cases they can then be deported.
“People will stop paying $10,000 to come to the border,” she said.
Her delegation encountered two groups of people nabbed at the border.
One, comprised chiefly of women and children, said they had paid $8,000 each to make the trip.
Among that group were two girls, ages 6 and 7, who were traveling without their parents. Each of the girls had a white plastic shopping bag with a zipper bag inside with their information, Ms. Ernst said.
One had a birth certificate and a note with her grandmother’s name, phone number and address from upstate New York written down, with the knowledge that the U.S. government would deliver the child to that address, completing the smuggling journey for the cartels and the parents who paid them.
A U.N. organization earlier this month rated the U.S.-Mexico border as the deadliest international boundary in the world, and Ms. Ernst said the evidence of that was all around her.
A landowner showed the Senate delegation a poster board photo of bodies they found on their property, and the senator said one image is seared into her memory: A migrant who’d died of dehydration, his body propped up sitting against a tree in repose — but his eyes had been gouged out by birds, leaving the sockets hollow.
“It was just horrible,” she said. “The things that you encounter — It’s like this Marine was saying, he’s seen horrible things in Afghanistan, but he said it was nothing like this.”
Ms. Ernst was making her second trip to the border as a senator, following one during the Trump years.
She said the cartels have evolved new tactics over the years, including using drones to keep better tabs on what Border Patrol units are doing.
The cartels know where the units are and where to send their high-value cargo like drugs over to escape detection.
She also said agents told her that the smuggling cartels, which control both the drug and human traffic across the border, seem to have cooled their years-long turf battles.
The explanation she heard is that there’s so much money being made off the record level of migrants that the cartels don’t want to rock the boat.
“There’s just an abundance of money pouring into their coffers because it is so easy to get people into the United States,” the senator said.
The Washington Times database of smuggling cases shows payments in Texas made for border crossings ranged this month from a couple thousand dollars up to $11,000 for Mexicans, and up to $14,000 for Central Americans.
Ms. Ernst said those on the ground told her the solutions involve restoring some Trump policies that blocked catch-and-release.
She also urged passage of legislation she has written that would transfer to states border wall materials.
Texas and Arizona have both announced plans to build wall on their side of the border, and Ms. Ernst’s bill would let them tap into the steel stockpiles federal taxpayers have already bought, but which President Biden has left to rust to fulfill his campaign vow not to build “another foot” of President Trump’s wall.
It’s not just the southern border that’s seeing the surge.
Under Presidents George W. Bush, Obama and Trump the northern border would regularly go entire years without fewer than 10,000 illegal immigrants encountered at the Canadian boundary, CBP tallied 10,900 encounters with unauthorized northern border crossers in June, shattering previous records.
As of June, nine months into the fiscal year, CBP says it’s nabbed 67,896 people at the northern border.