Abbott Presses ‘Border Czar’ Kamala Harris for Answers on Trafficking of Children Amid Border Surge

March 31, 2021 Updated: March 31, 2021

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has sent a letter to Vice President Kamala Harris—the Biden administration’s point person on immigration issues—demanding answers and action on what he described as an “ongoing humanitarian crisis” amid the surge in illegal crossings that he blamed on the administration’s “open border policies.”

Last week, President Joe Biden tasked Harris with stemming the rising tide of immigrants—many of them unaccompanied children—crossing the border illegally into the United States, saying it would be a “tough job” but that she was “the most qualified person to do it.”

Abbott, noting in his letter (pdf) that Harris had been named “Border Czar in charge” of the Biden administration’s response to the border surge, called on Harris to clarify what is being done to curb the flow of illegal immigrants into the country and to prosecute human traffickers.

He also took aim at policies that he said, “embolden and enrich cartels, smugglers, and human traffickers who continue to ramp up their criminal operations.”

“I urge you to visit the border to see the crisis for yourself, and I implore the Biden administration to take swift action to secure the border, crack down on human trafficking, and prevent more children from being trafficked and abused,” Abbott said in a statement.

His letter comes as neither Biden nor Harris have announced plans to visit the border region, nor has the Vice President held any public briefings on the immigration situation since being put in charge of the effort to deal with the border surge.

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Illegal immigrants listen to instructions at an outdoor Border Patrol processing center under the Anzalduas International Bridge after crossing the Rio Grande from Mexico near Mission, Texas, on March 23, 2021. (John Moore/Getty Images)

Since January, the Biden administration has reversed a policy of turning away unaccompanied children, instead opting to process them and place them with sponsoring families in the United States. Critics, including Abbott, have said Biden’s policies have led to a surge in people crossing the border, especially unaccompanied minors.

Customs and Border Protection recently noted a more than 100 percent month-over-month increase in February in two categories of illegal aliens—family units and unaccompanied minors.

In his letter, Abbott urged the Biden administration to interview every unaccompanied minor coming across the border to determine if any child has been harmed, groomed, or victimized by human traffickers.

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‘Coyote’ people smugglers gesture as they stand on the Mexico side of the Rio Grande River near the U.S. border city of Roma on March 28, 2021. (Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images)

He also complained that a number of questions regarding the flow of children across the border remain unanswered, including whether any of the minors were forced to carry contraband across the border, whether the children or their families were coerced or threatened by cartel members or human traffickers, and whether there was a medical screening process in place to identify potential abuse and assault of the children.

“What specific measures can the administration point to that confirm that these children are not released to human traffickers in the United States?” Abbott wrote. “What action is your administration taking to prosecute those who traffic unaccompanied minors?”

The Epoch Times reached out to the White House for comment on Abbott’s letter, but did not receive a response by publication.

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President Joe Biden listens as Vice President Kamala Harris speaks about the American Rescue Plan in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, on March 12, 2021. (Alex Brandon/AP Photo)

Abbott’s letter comes amid reports that the number of illegal border crossings jumped to 150,000 in March—50,000 more than in February and edging out the highest month in 2019, during the most recent border crisis. In May 2019, Border Patrol apprehended 144,000 people between ports of entry.

While the Biden administration has repeatedly said that the border is secure and not, as some contend, open to illegal immigration flows, former Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Mark Morgan said during a press conference on the bank of the Rio Grande on March 30 that, “The border is wide open. … it’s not secure. Drugs are pouring in and criminal aliens are pouring in right now.”

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Former Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan at a press conference in Anzalduas Park in Mission, Texas, on March 30. 2021. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)
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Border Patrol agents arrest seven illegal immigrants who tried to evade capture near Penitas, Texas, on March 15. 2021. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

In his first press conference since taking office, President Joe Biden sought to portray the border surge as a seasonal spike and not, as critics have said, a result of decisions such as halting construction of border wall projects started under former President Donald Trump, or his support for immigration reform that would, if it clears the divided Senate, give a pathway to citizenship for millions of people living in the United States illegally.

“It happens every year,” Biden said of the border surge. “Does anybody suggest that there was a 31 percent increase under Trump because he was a nice guy and he was doing good things at the border? That’s not the reason they’re coming.

“It’s because of earthquakes, floods. It’s because of lack of food. It’s because of gang violence. It’s because of a whole range of things.”

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President Joe Biden answers a question during his first press briefing in the East Room of the White House on March 25, 2021. (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

Morgan told reporters at the press conference that the current surge can’t be explained away as a normal seasonal uptick.

“They created this crisis and they’re trying to spin and blame everybody but themselves,” Morgan said. “The only thing that’s really been put out there that’s honest is that we’re going to see numbers that we haven’t seen in over 20 years.”

Biden has said that his administration is continuing to quickly expel most adults and families under a public health order imposed at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. The difference is that the government is allowing teens and children, at least temporarily, to stay in the country.

CBP continues to enforce a policy, implemented by former President Donald Trump one year ago, of returning most southern-border crossers to Mexico. About 70,000 people, or 72 percent of such individuals—mostly single adults—were rapidly deported in February alone, according to CBP data.

Biden aide Roberta Jacobson, the White House’s southern border coordinator, said the administration is now more aggressively discouraging illegal migration.

“Don’t come over,” Biden said in a March 16 interview with ABC News when asked to articulate his message to would-be border crossers. “Don’t leave your town or city or community.”

But Reuters interviews with nearly two dozen migrants and more than a dozen people identifying themselves as smugglers, as well as an examination of hundreds of posts in closed Facebook groups where smugglers advertise their services, shows that many would-be migrants believe that they are welcome to cross the border.

“There’s 100 days of free passage across the border,” a Guatemalan smuggler told Reuters, referring to one prevailing perception.

“Supposedly the president is letting children in,” another told the outlet.

Charlotte Cuthbertson and Reuters contributed to this report.

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