Over the last few years, our country’s southern border has seen unprecedented amounts of illegal crossings, human trafficking, drug activity, and humanitarian violations. What is going on and what is driving this crisis? We sit down with Heritage Director of the Center for Border Security and Immigration, Lora Ries, to find out.
John Popp: From The Heritage Foundation, this is Heritage Explains.
Mark Guiney: Welcome back to Heritage Explains. I’m Mark Guiney. I work here in the communications department at The Heritage Foundation, and we are very excited to bring you a new six episode season of Heritage Explains. This one on a very important topic, the crisis at our southern border. Over the last few weeks and months, we’ve seen many distressing images of what is going on, especially in Texas, Arizona, and other border states, but also, throughout the country. It can seem overwhelming, but we are here to give you the rundown of the situation, with the help of some of the smartest policy minds out there. You’re going to be hearing from a lot of very compelling voices this season, but we’re going to start this series off with a new one, my colleague who works right down the hall.
Philip Reynolds: I’m Philip Reynolds. I’m a digital content producer here at The Heritage Foundation, and I don’t know if history buff is the right word. I really love studying American history. I like finding weird, discreet little pockets of it, that don’t get talked about a lot.
Guiney: Philip has a unique story to start our show off with today, but it’s a story that has something to teach us about conflict and where we are as a country now.
Reynolds: We’re going to talk about one of the weirdest wars, not just in world history, but in American history, a nearly bloodless war, mind you.
Guiney: And it’s called?
Reynolds: The Toledo War.
Guiney: As in Toledo, Ohio?
Reynolds: That’s right, that Ohio.
Guiney: As in the state of Ohio?
Reynolds: The Buckeye state.
Guiney: So who was fighting?
Reynolds: A lot of people, a lot of angry people. It was the people of Ohio, the Governor of Ohio, and the people of then Michigan territory. Later, Michigan would become a state in 1837, but at the time, it was the Territory of Michigan.
Guiney: So you’re saying this was a war between Ohio and Michigan?
Reynolds: Correct. The not yet state of Michigan Michigan. You had the kid who played travel ball fighting the kid who plays little league. This took place over the course of about 30 years, early 18 hundreds to 1830s, and the country changed a lot during that time. We went from just pretty much a coastal nation on the east coast to going out west. And back then, out west was not Nevada and Utah and Oregon and California. Back then, out west was Ohio, the Ohio River Valley, Michigan, Wisconsin. In 1825, you had the Erie Canal, and the Erie Canal created this new means for mass transport, mass commerce. And it turned towns like Rochester into boom towns overnight. So what you’ve got is you’ve got Toledo, Ohio. Toledo is on the very western tip of Lake Erie, and it is posed to become the next canal boom town. All of a sudden, this little western edge of Lake Erie becomes a really important spot.
Guiney: And there’s more than one person who wanted that spot.
Reynolds: There is more than one person. There’s a lot of people who want that spot. In 1787, the US drew up an ordinance line, and it was basically used to plot out new states in this western area. And according to it, one of the lines runs from the bottom, the most southern part of Lake Michigan, to the most western point of Lake Erie. And back then, their maps weren’t very good. So in it, Toledo is included. So basically, in 1803, Ohio becomes a state, and in their state constitution, Ohio says “We get the land around where Toledo will be, even if there’s some geographical inconsistencies,” which it turns out there are, because the map we used for the ordinance of 1787 was wrong actually. Because it’s the 17 hundreds. But anyways, Ohio has laid claim to it. Fast forward a decade, Illinois becomes a state. And Wisconsin and Minnesota, they’re also getting charted out where they’re going to be.
Michigan, they push their claim for the southern boundary. They’re like, “No, no, no, we should have Toledo.” President Monroe, so president at the time, he orders a new survey, and that actually ends up putting the line south of Toledo and puts the city inside Michigan. A few years before that, it’s actually funny, the former governor of Ohio had commissioned a survey that reasserted that Ohio had Toledo. So you basically have multiple surveys contesting whether Toledo is in Ohio or Michigan. By the mid 1820s, Michigan, what they do is they start settling the land around it. They’re building roads. They’re collecting taxes. Municipality wise, they’re trying to run the area as if it was Michigan.
Guiney: So how does the conflict develop? Does it come to a head here?
Reynolds: It does. 1835, Ohio’s Governor Robert Lucas, he passes a resolution that basically, just again, reinforces jurisdiction that “Toledo is under our control.” Michigan comes back and says, “All right, any Ohioans, any officials coming over here to either do surveys,” which they’re really burnt on at this point, “anyone coming to run things in any kind of official government capacity or otherwise, we will either hit you with a bunch of fines or just throw you in jail.” What starts happening is each governor starts raising militias. Militias are just citizens, but they’re armed and angry citizens. At one point, there’s word that Ohio’s going to raise 10,000 men. They start moving these groups around, and then, the Michiganders really start getting aggressive. At one point, a group goes into Toledo, they arrest some Ohio officials. They also moved into catch a survey party from Ohio and actually opened fire on them and took nine of them prisoner. No one was killed.
And then, a Michigan sheriff, Joseph Wood, he goes into Toledo to arrest an Ohio partisan, which is like a homemade freedom fighter. And that guy stabs him in the arm. And so, this is just really, really getting out of control, to the point where, among all this, the Jackson administration, Andrew Jackson is the president at this time, they essentially dropped the boom and are like, “All right, Michigan, enough is enough. Ohio, you guys have kind of been bad too. Here’s the compromise. Michigan, you are not going to get Toledo. What you are going to get though is a big chunk of the upper peninsula,” the UP, as people refer to it in Michigan, which at first, they’re really mad about, because to them, it’s just uninhabitable wilderness. But then, it turns out there’s iron ore there that’s super valuable. So Michigan didn’t really lose out in the end.
Guiney: And Ohio’s stuck with Toledo?
Reynolds: Ohio still has Toledo.
Guiney: In one sense, the Toledo War is a unique incident in American history. It’s hard to imagine two states going to war with each other like this in modern times. However, it is not unusual, in terms of the subject of the conflict, a border, a dividing line between states and nations. Borders have been the focal point of almost every war you can think of, because they’re important, crucially important. Often, we use the word “border” in a negative context. We like to think of ourselves as being above borders, unbound by lines created by law. But in reality, order and prosperity do not exist without them. Imagine if your town’s fire company or ambulance service had to cover the whole state.
Imagine a world where it was against the law to have a fence for your yard or a property line, for that matter. Imagine having to allow a complete stranger to walk into your house, unplug your coffee machine, which is made in the USA, of course, if you don’t get that reference, make sure you listen to our last season of Heritage Explains, and walk away with it. The reality is, meaningful borders are necessary for human beings to thrive in almost every context of life. And at our southern border, the meaning of that delineation has almost ceased to exist. So except for some criminal smuggling operations and a few politicians, nobody is thriving. Here to give us some context on the issue is immigration expert and Director of the Border Security and Immigration Center here at The Heritage Foundation, Lora Ries. You’ve been working in border security your whole professional career. Why?
Lora Ries: I got hooked my first trip going south of the border. I was with my family, driving from California down to Northern Baja, and in crossing the border, I could see no man’s land between our side and a wall on the Mexican side of the border. And I saw a lot of young men peering north towards the US, and I knew they were trying to figure out how they were going to cross illegally. And I was fascinated. And my senior year in college then, every paper I had, no matter what the class was, I could tie it to immigration, because so many issues affect immigration and immigration affects so many issues. I got the bug, and I’ve been working on it ever since I graduated from law school. So over 26 years now.
Guiney: How did you come to be on the conservative side of the issue?
Ries: I have a keen interest in upholding the law and loath fraud. We are such a generous country when it comes to immigration, and I want people who are truly eligible for the benefits that we give to be able to be granted those benefits in an expeditious manner and those who are not eligible to be denied and removed in an expeditious manner. There’s too much fraud in the system. It’s a very high reward, low risk process, and we see the consequences of it. It just perpetuates more illegal immigration, and we never seem to get out of this rut.
Guiney: In our current political conversation, we think about the word “border” as negative, that we’re always breaking down walls, we’re always eliminating borders. What is the conservative approach to the idea of borders?
Ries: Well, if you don’t have a border, you don’t have a country. And as a sovereign nation, the U.S., like any other sovereign nation, should have a say in who is coming into the country, how long they are staying, why they are here, basically the terms of their stay, and enforce those terms, and to know when people are leaving. The US is no different than any other country. And yet, we are now living through what a vocal minority wishes and idealizes of open borders, and it just doesn’t work to remain a sovereign country.
Guiney: So when we’re talking about the southern border, can you give us an idea of what we’re talking about, geographically?
Ries: So typically, we’re talking about the land border along the south. So stretching from California through Texas, it’s just under 2000 miles, and the topography ranges from river to mountains to national parks to desert to urban areas. So it varies considerably, and that’s why border agents have long called for different tools, depending on the topography and what they need to secure the border, depending on the location. So when people talk about “We don’t need a wall from coast to coast,” that’s a red herring. Agents have never called for that, but they do need infrastructure. And any leadership should be listening to the border agents on the ground and get them the tools that they need to secure that border.
Guiney: So we talk about there being a crisis at the southern border. What are we talking about when we talk about a crisis? Is there a crisis?
Ries: Absolutely. This president has broken so many records when it comes to the border, and all of them are bad. Just since he’s been in office, Customs and Border Protection has had 6.2 million encounters of illegal aliens and inadmissible aliens nationwide. Plus, you add to that about 1.5 million known gotaways, record unaccompanied alien children who’ve crossed, 368,000 unaccompanied alien children, record deaths at the border, record search and rescue operations, record Americans dying from particularly opioids and fentanyl, which is crossing the southern border. So we’re absolutely suffering from a crisis, and it doesn’t stay at the border. These masses are being flown all over the country, and relocating and resettling in towns all over America without their permission and sometimes without even being notified. And that affects public schools, it affects hospitals, it affects housing, it affects the economy, it has a lot of effects. And we just can’t have an open border and a welfare state. You don’t survive as a country.
Guiney: So can you talk a little bit about the people that we’re seeing cross the border? Where are they coming from? And what are they looking for?
Ries: So they’re coming from all over the world. Typically, illegal immigration across the southern border historically was largely from Mexico, and then, a large number from central American countries. But during this administration, CBP is reporting nationals from over 160 countries crossing the border. That is over two thirds of the globe. And it’s because people from around the world have seen and know that the border is open, and they have family and friends who have successfully crossed. And so, they know that now is the time, and they have responded with their feet. There have been a lot of unaccompanied children, as I mentioned previously, but also a lot of family units and a lot of single adults. And single adults are the hardest demographic to enforce the law with.
And unfortunately, that’s the highest numbers we’re seeing right now. But also, the administration just announced that they are no longer going to DNA test family units that are appearing on the southern border. And that started during the Trump administration, because there was a lot of recycling of children. The smugglers and the migrants knew that, if they posed as a family, that it would be easier for them to get into the country. And so, they would grab a child, claim it to be their own, and be let into the country. And so, the DNA started and found a lot of fake families. And unfortunately now, this administration is going to stop that DNA testing, which is just going to increase more child recycling and child smuggling.
Guiney: So why are people coming?
Ries: They’re coming for jobs mostly. The US remains relatively stronger economically to just about every country in the world. And even though many of these migrants have been safely resettled elsewhere, a third country perhaps, if they did face persecution or general economic or violent circumstances in their original country, many have resettled elsewhere, had documentation recording their settlement elsewhere. But because they know the border is open and the US is relatively always better to other countries, they will come here and ditch the documents from the country where they were resettled and get a job, which is another violation of the law. It is still against the law to work here without authorization, but it’s simply not being enforced.
Guiney: We hear a lot about asylum and asylum seekers. What is asylum? And how is it relevant to this conversation?
Ries: So asylum is to provide protection to someone who has either been persecuted or has a well-founded fear of future persecution, on account of one of five grounds, their race, their religion, their nationality, their political opinion, or a membership in a particular social group. And it gets confused with refugee protection, but in either case, a person seeking this protection has to prove the exact same thing. The only difference between asylum versus refugee is where they’re located. If they’re outside the US, they apply to be a refugee. If they’re at our doorstep or inside the US, then they apply for asylum. But again, the eligibility requirements are the same, and we simply do not have enough resources to verify a lot of the claims, most of the claims that are made. And so, it really comes down to credibility. Is this applicant believable? Are they telling a good story?
But unfortunately, many are coached. And so, it is easy to defraud, and people do. Because again, it is low risk, high reward, and unfortunately, this administration encourages more of it. Secretary Mayorkas of Homeland Security, for example, refers to the masses who are coming to our border as “asylum seekers.” He calls them vulnerable populations. And the left has also watered down the standards for asylum, including trying to shoehorn into that last category that I mentioned, membership in a particular social group, such circumstances as being a victim of domestic violence, living in general crime or violent circumstances, and their go-to villain, climate change. None of these involve membership or a social group. And the intent by the left is simply to have people come here and stay here. And unfortunately, they are ruining this very valuable benefit that we have provided so generously over the centuries, and it’s almost rendered meaningless at this point.
Guiney: What is the intent? So why have people come here and stay? Why is that the objective of the left?
Ries: They view this as a political source future votes, not just for Democrat votes, but also, a sense of power and representation in Congress. The left has successfully kept off the US census a question of citizenship, which means everyone is counted and used towards apportionment in Congress, whether you’re a US citizen, a green card holder, a temporary visitor, or an illegal alien. And so, because of that, we have congressional districts in California, for example, that simply should not exist. Whereas, other states should have more congressional districts. So it’s power and politics.
Guiney: So we talk a lot about the action of the cartels in Mexico, who are driving a lot of this movement. What is a cartel? And how do they fit in?
Ries: So there are a number of drug cartels throughout Mexico, and they are very powerful, vicious, and now wealthy, thanks to Joe Biden’s open border operations. And they have a easy time of buying off Mexican political officials, Mexican police, and they are ingrained in, not just drug smuggling, but now, people smuggling as well. No one’s crossing our southern border without going through a cartel. And our agents say that the cartels have operational control of our own border, and it results in child trafficking, rape along the journey. And once a migrant finishes their journey and gets into the US, their troubles don’t end there. Many still have to pay off portions of their smuggling debt, and these cartels will say, “No problem, carry this load of drugs across the border” or “Go work at our marijuana fields in Northern California” or “Enter the sex trade,” et cetera. We absolutely have a humanitarian crisis, along with the other national security crises and public safety crises that I talked about.
Guiney: So this is an important thing that I did not initially understand about the border crisis, which is that people who are migrants are not just loading up and going across the border of their own accord. They are almost required to pay a cartel to smuggle them across, almost every single one of them. Is that right?
Ries: Yes. And the fee can range... Typically, the smuggling fee, these days, anywhere north of $8,000 a person.
Ries: For Chinese nationals, it’s much higher. We’re talking 30 or $40,000. So it is quite common then that they are going to have to “work off their debt,” once here.
Guiney: That has got to be a huge business. I can’t even do that math in my head of how much money we’re talking about.
Ries: It’s many billions of dollars.
Guiney: Wow. And what does the Mexican government think of all this?
Ries: It’s kind of a symbiotic relationship, because these cartels have grown so big, so powerful, so wealthy, and again, so vicious, that the Mexican government tends to ebb and flow about tamping down on cartel activity, when they want to, when they need to, if the US government is applying pressure, if it’s tourist season, take your pick. But in general, it certainly seems like the cartels have the upper hand in Mexico, with respect to the federal government there.
Guiney: And then, on our side of the border, the other equation is that we have these non-governmental organizations, as well as our own government itself, which is then facilitating the landing of migrants within the interior of the United States.
Ries: So this administration is giving hundreds of millions of dollars to NGOs or non-governmental organizations to help implement its open border agenda. There is no way this administration could reach these numbers without using NGOs to do it. And so, there are unknown numbers of NGOs involved in this heritage. We did a small pilot project, where we tracked anonymized phone data for just a month, across the southern border, through about 30 known NGOs. And then, where did those phones go for 30 days after that? They went to every single congressional districts in at least the lower 48 states. And so, these NGOs are transporting the aliens their last mile. It’s smuggling, to be blunt. Unfortunately, a number of the NGOs are faith-based organizations, Catholic charities, Lutheran Immigrant Refugee Services, World Church Services, HIAs, et cetera. And the left was smart about this and is perfectly willing to hide behind these faith-based organizations, because they know that the right is going to be very reluctant to call out these faith-based organizations for what they’re doing.
The organizations will simply say, “We’re helping vulnerable aliens, we’re providing them food and shelter. We’re not smuggling.” Someone from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops calls up a member of Congress and says, “Hey, don’t you dare question what we’re doing here.” And unfortunately, too many members then just clamp up. But it’s important to call out these organizations for what they’re doing, and they are protecting a multi-million dollar, really a billion dollar operation. And there’s so many different pots of money that these groups get paid in across multiple departments. FEMA, within DHS, Customs and Border Protection, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, the Justice Department, the State Department, Health and Human Services, the Labor Department, it is a racket. And more people need to be calling out these organizations for what they’re doing.
Guiney: Wow. So can you walk me through, for a given migrant, they come across the border, they’re picked up by CBO, what happens next?
Ries: So they are processed by CBP, quick criminal check against a database, our own criminal database, our own immigration history. Too often though, there’s nothing from their home country to check against. And then, they are turned over to these NGOs, who may shelter them for a day or two and then, take them to whatever transportation, whether it’s the bus or an airplane, to go to their destination of choice.
Guiney: So they’re never just deposited back on the other side of the border. We always are pulling them into the country.
Ries: In small numbers, there’s something called voluntary return or turnbacks, and that happens in very small numbers. When we had Title 42, the public health authority tied to COVID, then agents were able to quickly expel migrants. But that has since ended, and it was a valuable tool. What this has all shown us is that agents need a general purpose, but emergency tool to quickly turn people back, not just for public health reasons, but in the vast majority of the circumstances, these people are led into the US and then released, hence the term “catch and release.” And it’s one of the strongest pull factors for more illegal immigration. It just draws more people to the border, because they know they too will be released.
Guiney: And then, once they’re released, they’re given a court date. What purpose does that serve?
Ries: So what’s supposed to happen is, yes, they are issued a piece of paper called a Notice to Appear. And that begins removal proceedings. And it says “You’re supposed to report to this court in this location on such and such a date to go see an immigration judge. You’re deportable for this reason.” Generally, you snuck across the border illegally. And then, when that court date comes, the alien, and they can have an attorney, no expense to the government, will say, “Yes, I concede, I crossed the border illegally, but I want to apply for asylum” or “I want to apply for another benefit.” Unfortunately, the docket, in immigration courts, are so large that those court dates are years into the future.
Guiney: Yeah, I was seeing, most recently, people were getting documentation that had court dates for 2028.
Ries: Yeah, it’s ridiculous. And that goes back to that fraud issue. So if your court docket has millions of cases that are fraudulent, this is the result. And so, people know “I’ll just come in, I’ll claim a few words of fear, and I got three, four years to work in the US, to put roots down, maybe have a US citizen child. And then, if I ever do get into court and the judge orders me remove, I can argue “You can’t deport me. I’ve got too many ties here in the US.”“ And so, it’s very important that immigration judges be given tools, like summary judgment, to quickly remove the frivolous claims, get that docket shrunk back to a reasonable manageable period of time, and to discourage more fraud and people just buying time to shield themselves from future removal.
Guiney: But then, sometimes, people just don’t show up for the court dates that they’re given. What happens then?
Ries: Then they are found in absentia or in absence. They’re ordered removed in their absence. But then, what do you do with that order? Where does the judge send that order to? How is that alien notified? You now have a final order of in absentia against you. And so, that pile just grows and grows and grows, and ICE isn’t out looking for them. This administration does not prioritize finding people with final orders of removal. And so, they continue to live here unless and until they have some future encounter with either law enforcement or ICE, in which point then ICE could go ahead and execute that order.
Guiney: So of the people who come through the border, how many of them wind up going back out? Do we know?
Ries: The numbers have been quite low under this administration, just for a point of reference. So in FY 2020, so that was peak COVID, there were 186,000 deportations. Now that’s a very low number, because of COVID. There weren’t a lot of people coming in, and ICE wasn’t deporting a lot of people, but 186,000 for FY 20. FY 21, only 59,000 deportations. FY 22, there was a little bit more 72,000. But this administration is only budgeting for this year and next year about 29,000 deportations. So historically low, as we’re receiving and encountering historically high numbers of illegal aliens.
Guiney: And about how many are coming in? You said the 29 for this coming fiscal year. And then, about how many would we expect to be coming in?
Ries: We’ve been tracking over 2 million illegal alien encounters and inadmissibles about each year.
Guiney: So that 29 is just nothing compared to that?
Ries: Exactly. It’s important to know that now, because the numbers have gotten so high and the optics have been so bad for this administration, they’re now playing a shell game. So month after month, everyone has been looking at the number of people crossing between the ports on the southern land border. And what this administration has done is said, to future illegal aliens, “Stop crossing between ports along the southern border. Use this CBP mobile one application, make an appointment with CBP, and you can cross through a port of entry.” Now, that might be a land port or it might be an airport in the interior. And then, this administration, before the first month of this program was even over, they touted, patted themselves on the back, and said, “Look, our border numbers are lower.” But they don’t want you looking at the numbers of people going through the ports, which has been steadily rising month after month after month.
Now, those people are still inadmissible. They have no lawful basis to be here. Yet, Secretary Mayorkas has repeatedly said, “This is a lawful pathway.” Well, it isn’t. He doesn’t have the authority to do this. Only congress has the authority to authorize immigration benefits. These are pseudo visas, what Secretary Mayorkas is doing. It’s mass parole. And so, one, he doesn’t have the authority to do it. And two, it also violates the parole statute in the Immigration Act, which says humanitarian parole is supposed to be extremely rare, only for urgent humanitarian circumstances, only on a case by case basis, for a temporary period of time. And then, when that condition ends, you revert to your prior status. So the classic example is someone who needs emergency surgery here in the US and doesn’t have time to go get a visa. Yet, this administration is mass paroling people in the tens of thousands every single month. And so, for that reason, it’s also unlawful. Yet, he keeps calling it a lawful pathway. And the people who use it are not lawful.
Guiney: Are the cartels still making money off of the CBP one, the people who would be going through those ports of entry?
Ries: Yes, because they might be traveling through the Darién Gap and Panama up to Mexico City and then, start using the mobile app there and fly from Mexico City directly into the interior of the US. Or they might still be smuggled all the way up to our land border, but they’re just dropped off at a port of entry, instead of a hundred yards east. So yes, no harm financially to the cartels with this program.
Guiney: Can you talk a little bit about fentanyl? We’ve heard a lot of conversations about fentanyl, how it’s dangerous, being smuggled through the border. What’s the connection there?
Ries: So China makes the precursor ingredients to fentanyl. It is a subgroup of an opioid, and it is much more powerful than heroin, in much smaller quantities. If you think about three grains of salt, that of fentanyl can kill a person. And China used to mail this directly into the US. During the Trump administration, they negotiated, strong armed China at least to stop direct mailing it. So then, China changed course and sends the precursor ingredients to Mexico. And then, in makeshift labs, those ingredients are turned into fentanyl, and then, it is being transported across the border. And as a result, US Americans are dying at historic levels from this. It was over 71,000 Americans died last year from this. And it’s different than drug overdoses, because people don’t know that it is being mixed with other ingredients. So a young person might think they are ordering Adderall or another type of painkiller online for example.
And often, these drugs have fentanyl mixed in with it. And so, it’s a poisoning. And a lot of fentanyl moms, who’ve lost their children to this, are very adamant about this point, that these aren’t drug addicts who are taking this drug. They don’t know what they are taking. And it’s just devastating our youth, and it’s coming into high schools. And it’s been frustrating that this administration is not taking it more seriously and working to secure the border to prevent. This president has lost one of his own children. He knows the pain involved. His other child has been a drug addict. He knows what drugs do to families and how devastating that is. And he is MIA when it comes to this issue.
Guiney: We’re screening for drugs presumably anyway. Why is having an unsecured border, in terms of people, also translate to having an unsecured border, in terms of drugs?
Ries: So the cartels are very good at adapting, based on how CBP is screening. A number of drugs are caught at ports, either hidden in trucks or cars or what have you. But earlier, I had mentioned that 1.5 million known gotaways.
Guiney: When you say “gotaways,” you’re talking about people who were at some point seen by border patrol, but then never apprehended?
Ries: Right, they were caught on camera. Agents weren’t able to go out to that location and intercept them. So there are a number of game cameras set up at or near the border on ranches or what have you. And those cameras are catching, day and night, single adult military aged men crossing, dressed head to toe in camo, with very full backpacks. And that makes up a good portion of the known gotaways. The drugs are coming in both at the ports and between the ports. Thank goodness, we catch a lot at the ports. We’re not catching everything at the ports, and we’re certainly not catching a lot between the ports.
Guiney: Why is terrorism a part of the conversation about the southern border?
Ries: It’s that population of gotaways. So when we have an open border and when NGOs will happily take illegal aliens on a free bus ride or plane ride anywhere the alien wants to go in the US, and yet, we still have at least 1.5 million aliens evading that, because they don’t want to be caught, that’s because they either have a criminal background, prior conviction, they’re smuggling drugs, or they’re a known or suspected terrorist. Just to give you a sense for some terrorism numbers. In FY 20, the number of terrorist screening database encounters were three. In FY 22, there were 98. So far, in FY 23, there have been 96, and there’s still five months to go.
Guiney: And these are people who have a confirmed background on the Terrorist Watchlist?
Ries: Yeah, they’re on that watchlist for a reason, and these are people that were just caught. So if we’ve got 1.5 million gotaways, people who do not want to be caught, then we have to assume there are terrorists among them. And yeah, absolutely, this country is facing a national security threat, to be sure.
Guiney: So we’ve talked about some of the way, obviously, the federal government is responding or not responding to the crisis. Can you talk a little bit about some of the state-based responses? How have more local communities responded to what’s going on?
Ries: Texas is obviously at the forefront, because they’re affected first. They have put a large presence of National Guard down at the border to try and dissuade people from crossing and to then arrest people, based on state law. But unfortunately, it’s just a bit of a speed bump. They might be put in state jail for a short period of time, but ultimately, let out. But Texas is doing what they can. A number of states have been suing the federal government for the various violations of the law, whether it is because this administration is not mandatorially detaining aliens, as the law calls for, because this administration is mass paroling aliens, that I talked about earlier, in violation of the law, the administration has put out enforcement priority memo, which basically is telling the agents not to enforce the law, a number of lawsuits, and have been successful.
Unfortunately, the administration is also thumbing its nose at the court orders. But there are other things that states can do anywhere in the country. States have authority over their business licenses, driver’s licenses, license plates, and so, they can prohibit people from being issued driver’s licenses or business licenses. They can go after NGOs that are working in their states, transporting aliens through their states. They can require E-Verify be used, the employment verification electronic system. They can prohibit in-state tuition from going to illegal aliens. They can collect data on criminal aliens in their state being detained and released. So there’s a number of things states can do to at least make it more difficult to illegally reside within their state. States do not have the authority to deport aliens across the US border. Texas has come really close to approaching that line, but I think they fear that the administration would, not just sue the state, but perhaps arrest Texas officials, if they did that. So some states have raised the invasion question under the Constitution. That’s a novel issue. It hasn’t been tested.
Guiney: Is there anything else you’d like to make to mention about the current state of the border?
Ries: So we look at this month by month by month, and after two and a half years, it’s very clear this administration is not changing course. They’re just unfortunately becoming more deceitful about what they’re doing. So I am not optimistic that, on its own, this administration is going to start securing the border. They respond to bad optics, and it’s paramount that media, citizen journalists, but even mainstream media, keep paying attention to this issue, keep going down to the border, taking video of what’s happening, and publicizing that far and wide. I fear it’s going to take a terrorist attack to get this administration to change course. I wish it wouldn’t have to come to that. Congress could reign in severely the spending for these open border operations. But unfortunately, we’re just not seeing that being done by Congress either. So as long as this administration keeps getting resources to carry out their agenda, they’re going to keep doing it, until something drastic happens.
Guiney: Today, we’ve given the overview of what is currently going on at the border, but this is only the first of a six part series. So you know that there is a lot more to talk about here. We’re going to have experts talking about the history of border enforcement through the last few presidential administrations, as well as some of the legislation that’s now being prepared to address the crisis at our southern border. Special thanks to Philip Reynolds and Lora Ries. And as always, special thanks to you for listening to Heritage Explains. If you have any thoughts or comments on what you’ve heard today or suggestions for future shows, shoot us an email at [email protected]. We’d love to hear from you. Take care, and we’ll see you next week.
Heritage Explains is brought to you by more than half a million members of The Heritage Foundation. It's written and produced by Mark Guiney, Lauren Evans, and John Popp, production assistance by Alexa Walker and Jeff Smith. Special thanks to Dr. Kevin Roberts.