COLIN SCHMITT “AT THE BORDER”
By Edie Johnson
Assemblyman Colin Schmitt (District 99) decided he’d had enough of the hype about the crisis at the US/Mexican border, so last week he went to see for himself saying he wanted to become as educated about the issues as possible. Schmitt interviewed all of the players: local officials, border patrol, newly crossed immigrants and volunteer staff at the holding facilities (many which he said had gone there from Orange County area churches and volunteer groups).
Who Paid For the Trip? The first thing many of our readers wanted to know after hearing of his trip was whether Orange County residents were paying for it. Schmitt said “absolutely not, in fact I never even considered it as a possibility. It was all out of pocket”.
What Does It Have To Do With Us? Some local residents wondered what light could be shed on a situation that has already received so much news coverage. Plenty, according to Colin Schmitt. The #1 reason is the thousands of immigrants (many related to those fleeing South American countries) that live in our Orange County communities. Acknowledging that the border situation is both a security and humanitarian crisis, Schmitt described what he said was his main concern, how children are being exploited from every direction. Cartels are much more powerful than most people realize, he said, even renting children to get a $30,000 fee, and then sneaking them back across the border for a 2nd round. DNA tests of supposed fathers often show them to not be a match.
Treatment of Detainees Schmitt said that every single immigrant that he spoke to said they were treated well by border patrol and officials running detention centers and did not a single child that was not being properly cared for. Border patrol was never trained to handle these kinds of numbers, and he said, but has been given additional training and has “stepped up to the plate.”
Process Flawed According to Schmitt there are several major problems in the process. Mexico’s recent steps to limit border crossings, he said, have helped a lot. Current law says that migrants are permitted to flee only to the next safe country, while the United States is 3 or 4 countries away from most of these immigrants’ home country. Many are now given the opportunity to fill out the necessary paperwork while in Mexico and wait for decisions there or in their home country. But there is a major problem that those who have entered the United States and become separated from their children have at times been difficult to reunite because it is currently illegal to do DNA tests or facial recognition on children for identification. This could be a major improvement in the process, to be able to identify youngsters.
We asked “Are all of these billions of dollars necessary to reinforce a wall that is only a partial deterrent anyway?” Schmitt said there are places the wall does need to be reinforced, and others where it won’t help, and where improved technology should be used instead.
New York and Orange County Feeding the Crisis While well-meaning communities in New York, and especially in Orange County have passed laws (especially those for free health care, college tuition and drivers’ licenses) to make life easier for immigrants, and the Orange County Detention Center has one of the best reputations for treating detainees with fairness, it has the unintended consequence of encouraging more border crossings and in fact crossings in which immigrants REQUEST to be sent to New York. Schmitt said that statistics clearly back this up. New York City’s Mayor DeBlasio’s decision this week to enter new migrants into the subsidized affordable housing lottery will likely create yet another surge, which he calls “a PULL”.
Solutions The three things that Schmitt emphasized the most that could help resolve current immigration issues are 1) At the federal level the United States needs to tackle ways they can help residents in the countries they are fleeing from, and if grants and other funding they need to make sure they get to those who need it. The majority come from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, but records show that others are migrating from 60 other countries, and that at least some are on International terrorist lists. 2) Streamline the process and have a system of laws that can actually be followed. 3) Change the law so that children can be identified and reunited if necessary.
A better process is critical, along with ways to tackle the horrific cartel monopoly of exploitation and heroin trafficking which he said even includes tossing babies into the Rio Grande to distract border patrol, and using people as mules with threats to them and their families’ lives.
Note: While Colin Schmitt’s experiences at the border and detention centers he saw were by and large positive, that does not necessarily reflect all centers. This week a California Congresswoman visited a detention center which she said was built for 150 detainees, but held over 900.