Home A project of States Newsroom
News
Rep. Scholten says ‘horrific’ conditions at southern border not helped by ‘do-nothing’ votes

Share

Rep. Scholten says ‘horrific’ conditions at southern border not helped by ‘do-nothing’ votes

Feb 09, 2024 | 8:59 am ET
By Jon King
Share
Rep. Scholten says ‘horrific’ conditions at southern border not helped by ‘do-nothing’ votes
Description
U.S. Rep. Hillary Scholten (D-Grand Rapids), joined an eight-person congressional delegation over the weekend for a two-day trip to the southern border | Scholten office photo

A Michigan congresswoman says the political gamesmanship by House Republicans has real-world implications that she saw first hand on a recent trip to the southern border.

First-term U.S. Rep. Hillary Scholten (D-Grand Rapids), joined an eight-person congressional delegation over the weekend for a two-day trip to the southern border.

Led by U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), the group also included Democratic Reps. Lauren Underwood of Illinois, Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania, Val Hoyle of Oregon, Greg Landsman of Ohio, Emilia Strong Sykes of Ohio and Joe Courtney of Connecticut.

The delegation heard from local leaders and U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) officials about the ongoing immigration crisis and what resources would best help deal with it.

But Scholten, an attorney who specialized in immigration law prior to winning election to Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District in 2022, tells the Michigan Advance that the havoc at the border was upstaged by Republican leaders in Congress, who clamored for an immigration bill and then killed it without a vote, before setting up a failed vote to impeach U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

“The chaos of the Republican Party right now has real and disastrous consequences for the American people and for those of us right back home in West Michigan,” said Scholten. “Their big attempt at fixing the border was to impeach the Secretary of Homeland Security, and they couldn’t even convince their full membership to get behind that idea. And it failed horrifically.”

Rep. Scholten says ‘horrific’ conditions at southern border not helped by ‘do-nothing’ votes
U.S. Rep. Hillary Scholten (D-Grand Rapids), joined an eight-person congressional delegation over the weekend for a two-day trip to the southern border | Scholten office photo

Scholten said that the political maneuvering has only worsened an immigration crisis in the country.

“I just was down at the southern border and saw firsthand, the absolute disarray. It has national security implications, economic implications, and humanitarian implications,” she said. “These are desperate individuals coming to the United States, as many of our ancestors did, fleeing oppressive governments or looking for work and a better life. But the system is very disorderly, and that does present national security concerns..

Scholten said she and her colleagues toured the international Paso del Norte Bridge, a port of entry facility that connects El Paso, Texas, to Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua. During the tour, she says she spoke with USBP officials about agents having to scan over 250 migrants a day at the facility for fentanyl with just one scanner.

“What I saw was truly overwhelming. There are just far more individuals who are crossing over and, and coming to the border every single day than we have personnel or infrastructure to deal with.”

That experience only strengthened Scholten’s resolve to call on House Republican leadership to bring forth the Dignity Act, which she called “the only bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill in Congress.”

The bill, introduced in May by a bipartisan group of six U.S. House lawmakers, including Scholten, seeks to solve three immigration issues. It would address the plight of the millions of undocumented people who are already working and living in the U.S.; reform the border process to bring a humanitarian approach to processing migrants; and create processing centers in other countries to help migrants understand the hurdles involved in making an asylum claim before they set out for the U.S. border.

“The aspects of that bill match up point for point to the problems that are being faced at the southern border,” she said. “For example, one of the biggest issues is simply flow. There are too many individuals that want to cross every single day, and too few border patrol agents and too small of buildings to deal with it.”

The act provides an immediate $25 billion for personnel, infrastructure and technology, which would be paid for with fees charged to individuals who pass a background check and want a work visa to remain in the United States.

Rep. Scholten says ‘horrific’ conditions at southern border not helped by ‘do-nothing’ votes
U.S. Rep. Hillary Scholten (D-Grand Rapids), joined an eight-person congressional delegation over the weekend for a two-day trip to the southern border | Scholten office photo

The Dignity Act was not part of the recently rejected immigration package, which Scholten said with a laugh was because it “makes too much sense.”

“Republicans right now seem way more interested in putting up, do-nothing, sure-to-fail messaging votes, and I’m really fed up about it because I’ve worked on immigration issues for 20 years,” she said. “We have before us bipartisan comprehensive approaches that will work. We just need [U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.)] to put this on the floor instead of embarrassing himself and the entire country with these do-nothing votes.”

Scholten and the group also toured the USBP El Paso Sector Enhanced Holding Facility, which can house up to 2,500 migrants at a time.

“I saw children sleeping on the floor of this facility who had just crossed the border alone minutes before. It’s horrific. Any person’s heart would just be broken over this humanitarian tragedy. I had a chance to talk with the border patrol agents, the healthcare personnel who attended to the children, the guards who were later going to transport them to a child-friendly detention facility. Just think about those words. A child-friendly detention facility. It’s a sprawling 360,000 square foot facility in the middle of the desert in Texas. It costs $1.2 million just to operate a day — $1.2 million a day just to operate,” Scholten said, repeating it again for emphasis. 

The group then wrapped up their visit with a tour of Annunciation House, an organization that provides hospitality services to migrants, immigrants, and refugees at the border. The shelter’s leadership team reported a dramatic increase in the flow of migrants throughout the shelter’s nearly 50 years in operation.

Scholten concluded her conversation with the Advance by noting that the crisis at the southern border is not confined to that region.

“As [Texas] Gov. [Greg] Abbott continues to bust migrants across the country, many of these individuals are finding their way to West Michigan as well,” she said. “These are now our neighbors, and this is a problem for all of us to confront and address and the only path forward is a bipartisan solution. I’m working on it every single day.”

Rep. Scholten says ‘horrific’ conditions at southern border not helped by ‘do-nothing’ votes
State Rep. Matt Maddock (R-Milford) | Laina G. Stebbins

Meanwhile, a group of Republican state legislators said they are also going to the border, although they declined to provide specific details on their trip.

In a press release sent to the Advance, state Reps. Steve Carra (R-Three Rivers), Matt Maddock (R-Milford), and Neil Friske (R-Petoskey) ssid they had arrived Thursday at the border “to assess the catastrophic situation caused by failed Democrat immigration policies.”

All three legislators are members of the Michigan Freedom Caucus, a small group of far-right lawmakers who have banded together during the 2023 session as Republicans moved into the minority for the first time since 2010. Their first action was to vote against the ceremonial election of House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit). 

As to their border trip, caucus co-chair Maddock said they were going to “meet with the locals, ask questions, and better understand this alarming situation at the border,” while Friske, who serves as secretary, said the border crisis “impacts the entire United States.”

However, the release made no mention of their specific location other than “at the US-Mexico Border,” nor any other details.

The Advance reached out and asked that question, as well as who invited them and how the trip had relevance to their roles as state legislators to Dakota Sawyer, the legislative director for Friske who sent out the press release and solicited media inquiries. However, Sawyer declined to answer any of the questions and responded that “Michigan Advance is hostile fake news.”