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WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Pete Ricketts, a Nebraska Republican, at a Tuesday press conference blasted Biden administration immigration policies following a visit last week with other senators to the U.S.-Mexico border.
Ricketts joined fellow Republican Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn of Texas and John Barrasso of Wyoming to share experiences from their visit last week to Texas. They observed U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents during a midnight patrol Thursday at the Rio Grande.
This was Ricketts’ fourth visit to the border, he said, as he previously visited during his time as Nebraska’s governor.
Ricketts said U.S. Customs and Border Patrol personnel had 269,735 encounters last month at the Southern border. He said there were 2.5 million encounters last year, which matches numbers for fiscal 2023, and a total of 8 million since the start of Joe Biden’s presidency in January 2021.
“We have a humanitarian and security crisis at our Southern border,” Ricketts said. “And it is created by Joe Biden’s failed and inept policies. That’s what we heard down there.”
Ricketts said 172 people on the terrorist watch list were apprehended at the border last year, and 18 people on the terrorist watch list were apprehended last month. NBC News reported in September that border agents are encountering “a growing number of individuals” on the watch list trying to enter via the border, though they still make up a very small portion of migrants.
“We are opening ourselves up for a terrorist attack,” Ricketts said.
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents told the senators that 854 people at the border died last year, Ricketts said, and that there have been over 2,300 deaths since the start of Biden’s term in January 2021. CBS has reported fiscal 2022 was the deadliest year for migrants recorded by the government.
“Joe Biden is responsible for those deaths,” Ricketts said.
The senators said border patrol agents told them the best thing to do is “change the policies.”
Ricketts said the Biden administration should “go back to ‘Remain in Mexico,’” which was a policy originally implemented under President Donald Trump that required migrants to wait outside the United States for their court dates. He said this policy would make sure there are consequences for individuals entering the country illegally.
The Biden administration changed the “Remain in Mexico” policy, but it is still criticized for pushing migrants away from asylum, sending them to face abuses in Mexico.
The Biden administration has struggled to manage the high number of migrants at the Southern border. Democratic mayors in major cities such as New York, Washington, D.C. and Chicago have asked for federal assistance for newly arrived immigrants.
Many of those migrants are awaiting their asylum hearings, and the immigration courts already have a 2.6 million case backlog, according to Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
The administration has expanded protected status to nearly half a million Venezuelan nationals, allowing them to live and work in the United States. Due to federal law, migrants have to wait six months to apply for permission to work after they file their asylum applications.
Democrats, for their part, have criticized the Biden administration for moving ahead with additions to the border wall.
Congress has taken no significant action on immigration policy in years.
A key part of the Texas visit was to thank the officers protecting the border, Cruz said.
“Those men and women, they risk their lives every night dealing with very dangerous human traffickers, drug traffickers, and they are frustrated beyond belief,” Cruz said. “They’re frustrated because they risk their lives catching dangerous people and they turn around and their political superiors just let them go. And the next day they go back and catch the same people all over again.”
Cruz said that during their midnight patrol, the senators encountered a group of about 20 to 25 migrants, who were mostly women and children.
He said they spent about a half an hour speaking with this group. Some of the children were not accompanied by a parent, and said they were on their way to see their respective uncles. The children also said their uncles did not know they were coming.
Cruz said they also encountered a 10-year-old girl with a man who was about 35 years old, who claimed to be the girl’s father.
“This girl was terrified,” Cruz said.