By Congressman Paul Cook
As Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, I’m working on initiatives like the Kingpin Act to combat the violence and political instability caused by drug traffickers and cartels throughout the Americas. Historically, drastic increases in illegal border crossings to the United States are linked to these dangerous factions. Promoting stability and reducing the drug trade in Central and South America, along with a secure border wall, will result in less carnage, increased national security, and reduced illegal immigration.
As recently as 2015, tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors were flowing illegally into the US, primarily from Central American countries. Attributed to increased levels of drug cartel violence and a perceived immigration policy change by the Obama administration, US officials were caught off guard and had little by way of funding and resources to care for these children, many of whom were forced to be housed in military installations throughout the country.
While it appears that illegally immigrating to the US is a safe bet for many Latin American families, it’s often treacherous and deadly. A 2016 study by the Journal for Latin American Geography examined the death rates during illegal border crossings and discovered that migrant deaths have increased exponentially since the early 2000s. The study also found that illegal immigrants, on average, spend two days walking through harsh desert environments with very little food and water. In many cases, immigrants were unable to complete the journey and succumbed to heat exposure. In southern Arizona, the remains of 2,100 migrants have been discovered since 2000, with children constituting 6% of that number. The study estimates that thousands of bodies still remain in the desert and will never be recovered to due to their remote locations.
Migrants also face deadly outcomes from violence perpetrated by smugglers. With ties to violent drug cartels, these smugglers, often referred to as coyotes, kidnap and execute migrants who refuse to carry narcotics across our border. In other cases, coyotes hold immigrants hostage and demand ransoms from their family members, with failure to pay resulting in execution. The deadliest example of coyote-inspired violence was the slaughter of 72 migrants in 2011, which occurred in Tamaulipas, Mexico at the hands of the Los Zetas drug gang. Add to this the tremendous threat facing our brave Border Patrol agents. They’ve been killed and injured by cartels, all while suffering severe understaffing issues, exacerbated during the Obama administration by policies that prevented them from cracking down on certain criminals.
Back here in California, enforcement of immigration laws was dealt a significant blow with the passage of legislation declaring it a “sanctuary” state earlier this year. No longer are state and local law enforcement agencies permitted to transfer illegal immigrants to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials after arrest for unrelated crimes. Now, criminal aliens, often with multiple serious convictions, escape deportation. The killer of Kate Steinle, Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, was a seven-time convicted felon, and yet the San Francisco County Sheriff’s Department shielded him from deportation. Steinle was gunned down on a San Francisco pier by Zarate after he was released from police custody.
There’s nothing “compassionate” about a porous border and stymied immigration enforcement. It hurts everyone involved, often with deadly consequences, and comes at the expense of our national security. In fact, lax enforcement only emboldens and incentivizes illegal border crossings. With a growing number of state and local governments declaring sanctuary status, it’s incumbent on the federal government to build a border wall and increase counter-narcotic interdictions throughout Latin America. The crisis along the border cannot and should not be ignored.