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Speaker: Border security top priority for Congress in 2024

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Border security is a top priority for Republicans in Congress in 2024, House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-Louisiana, said ahead of another congressional delegation trip scheduled Wednesday in Eagle Pass, Texas.

The area has been hard hit by illegal border crossers and is at the center of several lawsuits between the federal government and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott over border barriers.

The congressional delegation will be briefed by law enforcement and local officials about current conditions and hear concerns raised by residents living along the Texas-Mexico border.

Lawmakers also will discuss their plans for this year after Congress adjourned in December without agreeing on funding packages for Israel and Ukraine, which were tied to funding for border operations. Opponents of the funding packages have argued no more taxpayer dollars should be sent overseas. Instead, funding should be prioritized on helping Americans struggling with high inflation and securing the border.

Before the Christmas holiday, Johnson sent a letter to President Joe Biden calling on him to secure the border while also blaming him for the crisis.

“The southern border of our nation is being overrun and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is at a breaking point. This catastrophe requires your administration’s full attention and commitment,” he wrote.

Johnson also cited record numbers of illegal entries, record fentanyl seizures, “countless children and adults” who’ve been trafficked into the U.S., the impact on local communities by violent criminals and Americans being “more vulnerable to a terrorist attack” after Biden took office.

He reiterated claims made by Abbott and others that the border crisis “is the direct result of your administration’s policies.” He said the president has “clearly undermined America’s sovereignty and security by ending the Remain in Mexico policy, reinstating catch-and-release, suspending asylum cooperative agreements with other nations, ignoring existing restraints on the abuse of parole, and halting border wall construction.”

The solution, Johnson said, includes implementing “statutory reforms designed to restore operational control at our southern border,” which “must start now, and it must start with you.”

The letter urges Biden to “immediately take executive actions … to stem the record tide of illegal immigration.” The administration argues the executive actions that have been taken are providing an orderly, humane process to allow more people to enter the U.S.

Johnson called on the president to end the Obama-era catch-and-release policy it reinstated after the Trump administration abolished it, and to turn back or detain all illegal foreign nationals apprehended between ports of entry. The administration has argued in several lawsuits filed over its policies that it does not have enough space to detain everyone illegally entering, which is why they are being released into the country. Plaintiffs argue this policy violates laws established by Congress and that releasing people en masse into the country, instead of processing them for removal, is illegal.

Johnson also called on the president to “stop exploiting” the parole system, when the administration created more parole programs than previous administrations and has said it doesn’t plan on stopping them. He also called on the president to negotiate with Mexico to reinstitute the Remain in Mexico program after both presidents met roughly one year ago and expressed no plans on doing so.

He called on the president to “immediately renew construction of the border wall” after the administration already announced it was doing so in certain areas.

While Johnson urged the president “to regain operational control of the border,” U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas argues operational control exists. And when announcing record high illegal border crossing data for November, CBP Acting Commissioner Troy Miller said the agency needed more funding from Congress to process more people into the U.S.

U.S. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mark Green, R-Tenn., has scheduled hearings this month to address the border crisis. The committee released a series of reports after a nearly year-long investigation into “the causes, costs, and consequences of the crisis at the Southwest border and how the reckless decision-making and legally dubious policies” of the president and Mayorkas “have precipitated the worst border crisis in American history.”

The fifth report was released last month, as well as interview transcripts with Border Patrol chiefs who explained how “illegal aliens are spreading the word the border is open;” and agents being reassigned to process and release “illegal aliens into the country rather than patrolling the border between ports of entry” has increased security risks.

The border trip in Eagle Pass comes as a record number of known, suspected terrorists are being apprehended by CBP agents—including an Iranian national with terrorist ties who was arrested on Dec. 21 near Niagara Falls, New York.

In the first three months of fiscal 2024, 80 KSTs were apprehended, with the majority, 46, at the northern border.

These apprehensions are on track to exceed fiscal 2023 apprehensions of 736. The majority of them, 487, or 66%, were apprehended at the northern border.

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