- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 17, 2022

A Marine who was in Afghanistan when the country fell to the Taliban and who now lives in Texas told lawmakers he has seen more dead bodies along the U.S.-Mexico border than he did during his tour of duty.

Sen. Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican who served 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. She said she likened the border to a “war zone” and then talked with 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.

She was part of a delegation of senators who made the trip to the border to get a firsthand look at the continuing chaos under the Biden administration.

Their trip coincided with the Homeland Security Department’s release of border numbers from June. The report showed Customs and Border Protection agents and officers nabbed more than 207,000 people during the month.

That number was down from May, and the Biden administration trumpeted it as a sign of improvement.

SEE ALSO: Six terrorism suspects nabbed at southern border in June

“While fluctuations are normal from month to month, we saw a 14% decrease in encounters compared to the previous month,” CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus said in announcing the data.

Below the surface, the numbers showed some worrying trends.

Although the number of migrants traveling as family units — at least one parent and minor child — declined, the number of illegal immigrant children traveling unaccompanied rose to more than 15,000.

The Border Patrol reported nabbing 56 people this fiscal year whose names were on the terrorism screening database. As of May, that figure stood at 50. That means six more suspects were caught in June.

This is shaping up as the worst year on record by far for terrorism activity on the southern border. In 2021, the Border Patrol arrested 15 terrorism suspects. Before that, agents tallied just 11 arrests combined for 2017 through 2020.

CBP has not offered an explanation for the surge.

SEE ALSO: Notorious cartel leader captured in Mexico; awaits extradition to U.S.

Analysts said the record number of border jumpers caught is a troubling indicator that even more, including terrorism suspects, are making it into the U.S.

Of the 207,416 migrants 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. Most of the rest were expected to be released after transfer to another federal agency in the interior of the U.S.

The successful objective of most migrants — getting released — is enticing more to make the journey, Ms. Ernst said.

She said Border Patrol agents and others in Texas said the key is to hold the migrants in detention until their cases are heard. If they have valid claims, they can then be released. Those who lose their cases can 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, traveling without their parents. Each of the girls had a white plastic shopping bag with a zipper bag inside with her 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. With that information, the U.S. government would deliver the child to that address, completing the smuggling journey for the cartel and the parent who paid it.

A U.N. organization this month rated the U.S.-Mexico border as the deadliest international boundary in the world. Ms. Ernst said the evidence of that was all around her.

A landowner showed the Senate delegation a poster board photo of bodies found on the property. The senator said one image is seared into her memory: a migrant who died of dehydration. His body was propped up 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. The first was during the Trump years.

She said cartel tactics have evolved and now include the use of 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, such as drugs, to escape detection.

She 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 the cartels are making so much money from the record number of migrants that they 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 for border crossings ranged this month from a couple of thousand dollars to $11,000 for Mexicans and up to $14,000 for Central Americans.

Ms. Ernst said those on the ground told her the solutions involved restoring some Trump policies that blocked catch-and-release.

She urged Congress to pass legislation she wrote that would transfer border wall materials to states.

Texas and Arizona have announced plans to build walls on their side of the border, and Ms. Ernst’s bill would let them tap into the steel stockpiles that federal taxpayers have bought. President Biden has left the material to rust to fulfill his campaign vow not to build “another foot” of President Trump’s wall.

The surge is not at just the southern border.

Under Presidents George W. Bush, Obama and Trump, authorities at the border with Canada would regularly go years without encountering 10,000 illegal crossings. In June, CBP tallied 10,900 encounters with unauthorized northern border crossers, shattering records.

As of June, nine months into the fiscal year, CBP reported nabbing 67,896 people at the northern border.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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