The surge in migrants crossing the southern border isn’t a challenge for just Texas and neighboring states, warns Utah Rep. Burgess Owens.
During a TV appearance Wednesday, the House freshman used highly charged language to argue this may hit closer to home for many Americans.
“Believe me, the borders are open right now,” Owens, R-Utah, said, during his trip to McAllen, Texas. “We are seeing every single day, people coming here and within hours getting on a train or a plane and going to your neighborhood. So, no Americans, this isn’t a border issue anymore. They are coming to your neighborhoods, not knowing the language, not knowing the culture, and there is a cartel influence along the way. So be aware, don’t think this is a distance from you now, this is coming your way and it is done on purpose by a party who could care less about we the people.”
Owens made these comments during an appearance on the far-right Newsmax station during his trip to the border with fellow Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee.
“That is purely misinformation,” said Aden Batar, the director of migration and refugee services for Catholic Community Services of Utah. “The issue has been politicized. We are not seeing an influx of undocumented individuals coming to our communities here.”
The Tribune asked Owens’ office for evidence of an increase in undocumented immigrants using planes and trains to fan out across the country. His staff pointed to news stories about the federal government seeking to fly families and unaccompanied minors to border locations near Canada and to San Diego for processing. And rural areas of Arizona that complained about border agents leaving migrants there when they don’t have the resources to help.
The borders are not open.
The current U.S. policy is to turn away adults at the border, but allow unaccompanied minors to enter the country as their asylum claims are processed.
CNN obtained preliminary data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection that shows agents encountered 171,700 migrants in March, a significant increase over this period the previous year. Most of those people were adults who were turned away, following rules put in place by former President Donald Trump in connection with the pandemic.
President Joe Biden, unlike Trump, is allowing unaccompanied minors into the country and that group hit 18,800 in March, a record high, CNN reports. That has led to overcrowding at border detention centers. A March 23 report from Axios indicated the government only turned away 13% of the families and adults that crossed the border illegally, with federal officials saying a one-week stat doesn’t “reflect the full picture.”
Some unaccompanied minors may eventually receive care from foster families in Utah, Batar said. But that is a lengthy process and none of them have traveled to the state yet.
Many of these people crossing the border are from countries such as Honduras, that have been hit by natural disasters. Biden has tasked Vice President Kamala Harris to lead the response.
Owens said Biden and Harris suffer from “cowardice” for not visiting the border themselves. He said he saw a 7-year-old girl who had been detained for 17 days.
“This is chaos.” he said.
Owens is the second member of Utah’s congressional delegation to visit the border this year. Sen. Mike Lee was one of 18 Republican senators who visited the area, criticizing Biden for not allowing media to document the crowded conditions.
He also criticized the president for ending Trump’s rule requiring all people seeking asylum at the southern border to wait in Mexico.
“This is unacceptable. It absolutely defies reason and logic that these are solvable problems,” Lee said. “We should be able to send back unaccompanied minors who show up here on their own, send them back to their own countries.”
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, is also planning a trip to the southern border, though the details of that visit have not yet been released.