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Suozzi witnesses ‘broken’ system on border trip, envisions an 'Ellis Island solution' at border

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U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi was among a bipartisan group of members of Congress who spent two days touring the Mexican border this week. Six Democrats and three Republicans, all members of the Problem Solvers Caucus, are working to find a bipartisan solution to immigration issues.

Overcrowding at “soft-sided centers” — temporary holding areas with tent-like structures for unaccompanied minors and families hoping to enter the U.S. — is an issue of particular concern. Suozzi, a Democrat from Glen Cove and the caucus’s vice chair, described what he saw at the center in Donna, Texas, as “inhuman,” and added that the “system is broken, and it has been broken for decades.”

The lawmakers also visited an outdoor processing area, and met with humanitarian organizations and members of law enforcement. They toured the border by truck and boat, led by border patrol officers and Texas state troopers. At a news conference on Monday, Suozzi said that the U.S. needs a more secure border, which will require more than a wall.

“The Rio Grande is not that far across,” he said. “The brush in that area makes it very easy to go undetected. More ports of entry and technology with sensors is needed — a modern solution to a modern problem.”

Suozzi recalled his days as mayor of Glen Cove, when, in 1994, people from Central and South America sat on corners waiting for work. He arranged for an indoor facility, he said, so they could gather safely, and provided opportunities for those who found jobs to learn English.

“That was 27 years ago, and there is still a problem,” he said, referring to issues at the border. “Everyone wants to make this about Trump . . . and Biden. It’s a very complicated problem that requires us to make dramatic changes here in the U.S. and requires the assistance from Mexico, who have changed some of their policies recently.”

Mexico no longer allows children younger than 7 to re-enter the country at the border. So-called “coyotes” — those who smuggle immigrants across the border for a high price — and drug cartels are using children to get people across the border, Suozzi said.

“You see an explosion of young children here, and families with young children as well as unaccompanied minors at the soft-sided centers,” Suozzi said. “It’s terrible. I don’t blame anyone but the United States federal government, including Congress. We have failed to address this issue.”

He said he understood why people try to enter the U.S. illegally. The ports of entry can process only 40 to 50 people a day, with hundreds of people waiting. The U.S. needs to help Mexico, Suozzi said, and work with the governments of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador so their citizens will want to stay there.

“It’s costing us a lot more to not help them,” he reasoned. “There is so much human misery that comes along with this — so many people being exploited by the coyotes.”

Suozzi suggested what he calls an “Ellis Island solution.” He would like to see a large processing facility on the American side of the southern border where migrants could have medical exams, be processed and have access to immigration judges who would hear their cases “right then and there.” Suozzi said he was seeking a humane environment.

“Eighty to 85 percent of people who apply for asylum are rejected,” he said. “We need cooperation between different agencies and foreign countries. And people in Congress need to have some courage and address this.”

He was hopeful, he said, that the Problem Solvers Caucus would develop a report and propose a plan. If 75 percent of caucus members agree — and at least 50 percent of the members from each party, Suozzi said, the plan could be presented to Congress.