U.S. Rep. Jimmy Panetta took a detour on his way from Washington D.C. to Carmel Valley last week to stop in two border cities, El Paso and San Diego, to see how the immigration system is working—or isn't working.
He met with U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents, Citizen and Immigration Services officials, and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officers. What he encountered was mostly an overburdened system with too little staffing.
"You have border patrol agents who have been trained to enforce the laws. They are now in the position of processing people, and it’s taking a lot of resources," Panetta says.
"With 100,000 people a month coming here, the system is overwhelmed at this point. We ned to confront these numbers with more numbers on our part."
In San Diego, Panetta met a Honduran family planning to board a Greyhound bus to get to Houston, with help from the nonprofit Jewish Family Services. They had crossed the border in Texas seeking asylum, then were flown to San Diego where they got help from the nonprofit and planned to board a bus—headed back to where they'd come from.
It's these types of inefficiencies Panetta says were evident in a system that's not funded or staffed to keep up with the pace of immigration.
"I left the border with the impression that there clearly needs to be more resources allocated and dedicated to deal with the number of immigrants at our borders," he says.
The message from the Trump administration about hardline immigration policies is not reaching immigrants in their home countries based on Panetta's observations at the border. He met one father and 6-year-old son who'd come from Honduras expecting to go straight to Louisiana to meet up with family members, and were surprised to learn they'd have to wait in line for asylum proceedings—and that they'd have to wait in Mexico.
Panetta envisions part of staffing up the immigration system as hiring on more judges so cases don't stall in the courts. He sponsored legislation last year and intends to do so again this year to provide more resources to the so-called Northern Triangle—El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala—to stabilize those regions and disincentivize people from leaving.
"We need more resources devoted to where this problem is coming from," Panetta says. "Rather than just talking about building a wall, we need to talk about providing these types of resources."