Representative Eddie Morales responds to last week’s Sentinel reporting on asylum ban

I am honored to serve in the Texas House of Representatives for the largest house district in the state of Texas. We span from Eagle Pass to El Paso and encompass over 770 miles of the Texas-Mexico border. I live in Eagle Pass and can, quite literally, see Mexico from my front yard. Our communities have been at the forefront of the migrant surges for over three years now. 

In light of Governor Abbott seizing Shelby Park in Eagle Pass and making clear his inhumane approach to migrants, I came out in support of an asylum moratorium until Congress passes meaningful immigration reform and gives President Biden the tools necessary to address this crisis head on. I want to take a moment to explain why I believe a temporary asylum moratorium is necessary. 

Since late 2020, we have witnessed millions of migrants come to our southern border –– over 2.5 million of those have reached the interior of the United States to await their court date. Currently, asylum cases are backlogged anywhere from 5 to 10 years. Our immigration courts are backlogged with no relief in sight. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of migrants continue to make the dangerous journey to claim asylum in the United States.

For those living on the border, many of us are the product of immigrants –– myself included. For some, the border even crossed them. We are compassionate for those seeking a better life, but we also have to remain vigilant in enforcing the laws and keeping our communities and state safe.

In recent reporting from this publication, there was a response made by Fernando Garcia of Border Network for Human Rights to my support of a moratorium detailing that it is the “opposite of humanitarian.” I respectfully disagree with this assessment.

With the recent passage of Senate Bill 4, which creates a state penalty for illegal entry, the state of Texas is prepared to arrest and incarcerate migrants coming across the border. I strongly opposed this legislation, but it is ultimately where we are at.

The journey many of these migrants take from South and Central America is long and dangerous. They traverse the jungle, desert, and cartel-occupied regions. Many die on the way thinking they will make it to the interior of the United States. Many end up exploited physically and fiscally by the cartels. To date, the cartels have profited roughly $13 billion off of this crisis, leaving migrants with nothing to their name. These cartels are evil and know no bounds. The continued enticing of migrants making this journey puts them in harm’s way and fuels increasing tension with the Mexican government and the strengthening cartels. And if migrants do make it, they are arrested by Texas law enforcement. All together, that is not humanitarian, but rather a facilitation of exploitation and mass incarceration.

By having a moratorium, we can work to ease the flow and make clear that now is not the time for migrants to make the journey. We should not champion the risk of their lives for the sake of oxymoronic humanitarianism. Moreover, we have a duty to protect Texans.

Since the beginning of FY 2021, 312 individuals who have been identified on the terrorist watch list have been apprehended at the southern border, the preceding four years only saw 11 apprehensions. It is not just individuals from Latin America, but across the world because they know they can get into the United States. Many of these individuals come from Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, and more. These are concerning realities on the ground and demand serious action to mitigate for the safety of Texans. It is not an impractical question to ask how many evaded our law enforcement and how many would simply not have shown up on a watch list.

Ultimately, other countries in Central and South America must expand their capacity for asylum. I have seen firsthand how many migrants obtain safety in Latin American countries including Chile and Argentina but opt instead for the United States. Regrettably, much of this paperwork can be found in trash cans outside our ports of entry. It is necessary and humanitarian for these individuals to remain in these countries that gave them protected status, rather than risk the journey to the United States. 

I believe strongly that a moratorium would lessen the risk for migrants, stop the unchecked flow of unknown individuals entering the United States, and provide time for action from the federal government to make a more streamlined and efficient approach. I understand and sympathize with humanitarian concerns and am thankful for their advocacy, but we cannot continue down the path of encouraging migrants to risk their lives just to be met with the harsh approach the state of Texas has regrettably taken. 

Heriberto “Eddie” Morales Jr. is a lifelong resident of Eagle Pass, Texas. He is currently serving as state representative for District 74, the largest and most unique district in Texas. The district is made up of 11 counties –– including Presidio –– extending from his hometown in Eagle Pass, Maverick County to the northeast portion of El Paso County and includes over 770 border miles with Mexico.