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Border crisis awaits Congress return

Congress returns Monday from vacation to face an immigration and border crisis that looks strikingly different from what it did when members fled town in May after failing to pass an emergency bill to fund the government’s efforts to accommodate the illegal immigrant surge.

Over the 10 days lawmakers were gone, a federal judge halted President Trump’s border emergency wall-building plans — even as a private group in New Mexico stepped in to fill the gap, completing the first section of border wall ever built without the federal government’s say-so.

In Texas, the government recorded the largest single group of illegal immigrants in history, and also saw the first-ever large group of African children and families — suggesting that knowledge of the loopholes that Central Americans have been exploiting is now spreading beyond the Western Hemisphere.

Meanwhile the Homeland Security inspector general issued a stunning alert last week, while Congress was gone, saying the numbers of people have obliterated the Border Patrol’s ability to cope. Agents literally cannot release illegal immigrants fast enough to create space for the next wave.

Mr. Trump, his frustration with the situation growing, lashed out at Mexico. He announced crippling tariffs that will ratchet up over the next months unless the southern neighbor of the U.S. does something to stop the flow of people using its country as a transit point for the illegal surge.

Yet lawmakers remain paralyzed.

Mr. Trump’s $ 4.5 billion emergency spending request was left out of a broader disaster relief bill.

That disaster bill cleared the Senate, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent her troops home for the lengthy Memorial Day vacation before approving it. She then tried to get it approved during pro forma sessions last week, but Republican lawmakers objected.

It should easily clear this week.

But that does nothing for the border emergency.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said Sunday that the money is crucial to solving the humanitarian crisis and overcrowding problems that the inspector general identified last week.

“We need that funding from Congress. We need it immediately,” he told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Democrats, though, are in no hurry.

Majority Whip James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the third-ranking House Democrat, told CNN that they are going “through a process” — then quickly pivoted to complaining about the slow pace of legislation in Congress.

“I can say that the House is doing its part,” he said.

Republicans, though, say that’s not true. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he tried to attach the border money to the disaster bill but Democrats refused.

That has left Mr. McAleenan desperate for other answers.

Last week, he was in Guatemala, where he signed a cooperation agreement that already produced fruit with the raid of a $ 10 million migrant smuggling organization.

He said he is in talks with the Defense Department to open up 7,500 more beds to hold migrants snared at the border, which could ease the “dangerous overcrowding” that the inspector general reported on last week.

That report roiled the immigration debate.

Acting Inspector General John Kelly said migrants are being held in “standing-room-only conditions” for days or even weeks, and in some cases have far exceeded legal limits on how long they can be kept.

The investigation warned of potential clashes or riots, saying that “rising tensions among detainees could turn violent.”

The dangers extend to the Border Patrol agents, who have “a high incidence of illness” after contact with the massive number of migrants surging into the U.S.

The crush is also causing some agents to speed up their retirement or look for other jobs, with reports of job-related anxiety rising.

In one visit, investigators watched agents triage a large group of migrants at a facility. One group of 75 people was being treated for lice, while hundreds of parents and children waited in a tent to be fingerprinted and to have a criminal check performed.

“We also observed detainees standing on toilets in the cells to make room and gain breathing space, thus limiting access to the toilets,” Mr. Kelly wrote. “Border Patrol agents said detainees who were not ill were raising medical complaints to obtain temporary release from the cells, adding to the medical staff’s burden.”

Border Patrol officials say with more than 4,000 people crossing each day, the numbers are so overwhelming that they cannot fingerprint and process people quickly enough to release them to make way for the next wave.

On Wednesday, agents announced the largest single group of illegal immigrants in history, with 1,036 people nabbed in the same incident in El Paso. They were almost all families and unaccompanied children from Central America, taking advantage of lax U.S. policies that make it almost impossible to deport them quickly.

Late Thursday, Border Patrol agents encountered a group of 116 illegal immigrants from Africa. While the numbers weren’t record-breaking, it was the first-ever large group of African families and children, suggesting word of the loopholes in U.S. policy has now spread beyond the Western Hemisphere.

Members of Congress this week will also find a president desperate for answers.

His latest move to announce tariffs on Mexico — a prod to try to get that country to do more to stop the flow of people traversing its territory — unsettled Democrats and Republicans.

Even prominent backers of Mr. Trump and border security hawks said they couldn’t agree with this move.

“While I support the president’s intention of stopping unchecked illegal immigration, I do not support these types of tariffs, which will harm our economy and be passed onto Arizona small businesses and families,” said Sen. Martha McSally, Arizona Republican.

Mexico on Friday dispatched its foreign minister to the U.S. armed with a letter from Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador asking Mr. Trump to cool it.

The Mexican president claimed his country is “fulfilling its responsibility” to control illegal immigration across its lands “with full respect to human rights.” But he said the solutions to Central American migration will require lengthy nation-building in that region.

“Human beings do not abandon their hometowns by choice but by necessity. This is why, from the beginning of my tenure, I proposed that we both should opt for development cooperation to help Central American countries to attract productive investments that create jobs to resolve this grave issue at its core,” Mr. Lopez Obrador wrote.

Mr. Trump is unlikely to accept that long time frame.

“Mexico is sending a big delegation to talk about the Border. Problem is, they’ve been ‘talking’ for 25 years,” he said in a Twitter message. “We want action, not talk. They could solve the Border Crisis in one day if they so desired. Otherwise, our companies and jobs are coming back to the USA!”

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