By Ross Muscato
In a House Committee on Oversight and Accountability fact-finding hearing on illegal immigration along the U.S. southern border, strident, accusatory, and passionate rhetoric from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle was abundant.
Two U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) agents gave testimony and answered questions at the hearing held on Tuesday.
The hearing comes with the Biden administration facing a growing crisis of illegal immigration on the border.
Before Joe Biden became president, there had never been a month in which there were more than 200,000 interceptions of illegal immigrants along the border.
Every month for the past 10 months, more than 200,000 illegal immigrants have been intercepted along the border.
In the hearing, debated and discussed were dueling approaches to solving the crisis of illegal immigration and the attendant issues of human trafficking, drug trafficking (with a specific focus on the lethal fentanyl), handling asylum cases, gangs, and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel being spread thin.
CPB agents appearing and delivering testimony at the hearing were Gloria Chavez, Chief Patrol Agent, Rio Grande Sector, and John Modlin, Chief Patrol Agent Tucson Sector.
One comment that stirred emotions did not come from a committee member’s oral comments but in a social media post that Committee on Oversight and Accountability Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) read aloud.
As for that post, it was a tweet that Comer called “very disturbing.”
Comer and Ranking Member Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) had already made their opening statements, in which neither pulled punches.
And just before Comer introduced the border patrol agents, he cited the tweet, which he had just been made aware of and put out by Oversight Committee Democrats.
“It says, ‘Good morning and good luck to everyone except @GOPoversight members who are using today’s hearing,” said Comer as he read from a piece of paper, “to amplify white nationalist conspiracy theories instead of comprehensive solution to protect our borders and strengthen our immigration system.’”
Then, Comer looked forward and around and said, “I mean, really, I don’t even know what to say about this.”
Making Their Case
In his opening remarks, Comer stated that the Biden administration, and its lax immigration policies, significantly contribute to the transport of illicit drugs that “make their way to communities across the United States and poison our neighbors and our children.”
Comer continued, “Why? Why is this happening? Starting on his first day in office, President Biden signaled to the world our borders were open—open to criminals, human traffickers, and drug traffickers. His administration’s policies have eroded deterrents and stripped away enforcement tools.
“President Biden immediately ended enrollments in the migrant protection protocols, which required inadmissible aliens who remain in Mexico while their immigration case was adjudicated. He halted construction of border barriers even though Congress had appropriated nearly $1.4 billion for wall construction just a month before…”
Rep. Raskin held different views on the status of immigration.
After Raksin’s opening statement, which heralded the economy and job numbers under Biden and argued that expediting paths to citizenship for illegal immigrants living in the U.S. would benefit the economy, he claimed that the GOP is not interested in bipartisan immigration reform.
“The political problem is that when it comes to working out common sense immigration policy solutions, Republicans driven by the extreme MAGA wing of their party have been systematically thwarting and derailing comprehensive efforts to improve our immigration system and strengthen border enforcement,” Raskin said.
Raskin accused Republicans of spreading “fear about a foreign invasion, dangerous paranoia, about the racist and anti-semitic Great Replacement mythology and disinformation about fentanyl, the vast amount which is brought into our country by American smugglers working for the international drug cartels and traveling through lawful points of entry.”
Border Patrol Agent Testimony
In their opening statements and responses to questions, CPB chiefs Chavez and Chief Modlin emphasized that their jobs, and those whom they oversee, are focused on interdiction of those attempting illegal entry into the United States.
The agents said that their involvement with the migrants takes place within a period of 24 to 72 hours after apprehension and involves a significant humanitarian component, including making sure the migrants receive food, access to a shower, and any needed medical attention or clothing.
Indeed, with the rapid and dramatic rise of illegal immigration, the CPB estimates that 60 percent of the work of its agents has become humanitarian.
Following completing its duties, CPB Border Patrol turns the migrants over to the CPB Office of Field Operations (OFO).
In addressing and questioning Chief Patrol Agent John Modlin, Rep. Nick Langworthy (R-N.Y.) noted that in the first three months of the fiscal year 2023, an estimated 7,000 aliens a day were trying to pass illegally into the country.
“Chief Modlin, how has the unprecedented flow of illegal immigration impacted U.S. Border Patrol’s ability to maintain operational control of the southern border?” asked Langworthy.
Modlin responded, “When the flow of migrants across the border increases the way it does, there is a compounding amount of things that happen—one, certainly, in my sector, in the Tucson sector, because of the very extreme terrain we deal with, agents are called upon to make rescue.
“So an agent, literally in a matter of seconds, can go from an enforcement action to now rescuing someone—you know, performing on, whatever that happens to be. You have just the great distances within my sector that cause us to deal with these large groups and takes away from the border security mission.”
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) asked Chief Patrol Agent Gloria Chavez, “How does extreme rhetoric, including rhetoric used by lawmakers, make your work, and that of agents, more challenging?”
“I think of when I’m out there, with our agents, and we focus on the mission, and we do the job that we do everyday, encountering migrants on the ground,” responded Chavez. “The relationship that exists between those agents and encountering those migrants, it’s one of those relationships that no one will ever understand.
“Because those migrants, they see that agent for the first time, many of them on their journey—this is the first time they get the assistance and the help that they need from a law enforcement officer—from days and weeks, maybe even months, on a long journey.
“So they’re very helpful, they’re very happy, to have seen that agent for the first time.”