News from Representative Walden


Dear Friend,

I just returned from Texas and Arizona where I toured facilities operated by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in Carrizo Springs, Texas and the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facility in Yuma, Arizona. ORR cares for unaccompanied minors and CBP apprehends and then processes individuals and families and refers them to either ORR, if they’re unaccompanied minors, or to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) while they await adjudication of their asylum claim.  The CBP facilities are supposed to process people within 72 hours, although with the scope of the surge, that does not always happen.

Let’s start with the facts about the crisis:

Between 2003 and 2011, 6,000 to 8,000 unaccompanied kids a year crossed our border and came into our care at ORR facilities. The numbers began increasing in 2012, when 13,624 unaccompanied children crossed our border.  In 2016, nearly 60,000 children, mostly from Central America, came across the border and were cared for by ORR.  After a small drop off in 2017, we’re seeing a record-setting pace of kids coming to America.  In the first nine months of this fiscal year, CBP has apprehended 63,624 unaccompanied minors.  Right now, ORR is caring for about 12,000 children at any given time.

Meanwhile, CBP has apprehended 390,308 individuals coming in a family unit, defined as a parent or legal guardian coming to the U.S. with a child under the age of 18. And 234,443 single adults have also crossed the border.  That’s a total of 688,375 people who have come across the border illegally through June of this year. Last year, the annual total was 521,090.  The chart below tells the story:


More than 100K people were apprehended in March, April, May, and June of 2019.

The ORR facility I visited in Texas was opened only days before my visit and is funded largely by the appropriations measure approved overwhelmingly by Congress at the end of June (I was the only member of the Oregon congressional delegation to support this funding). It’s designed to expand capacity to serve up to 1,300 unaccompanied minors and to deal with the surge of unaccompanied minors coming across the border.

My staff and I were free both to tour any portion of the facility we chose and to take any photos we wanted to as long as we respected the privacy of the staff and children who are working and living there.  This facility was modern, clean, and well-staffed.  We even had a chance to talk with children who were working on craft projects in their rooms.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the operator of this facility, all youth at the facility have three meals and two snacks a day, access to medical and mental health services, schooling five days a week, and telephone access to call family back home and to talk to sponsors in the U.S. weekly.  The ratio of caseworkers to children is 1:8 (these are the people that work with kids to get them placed with a sponsor in the U.S.).  The ratio of mental health providers to kids is 1:12, and the ratio of direct care workers to kids is 1:6.   A surge facility such as this is not cheap, costs range between $700 and $800 per child, per day.  On Saturday, they were caring for 206 children; 87 girls and 119 boys. 

ORR operates 168 shelters in 23 states, including Oregon, to care for unaccompanied minors.  The current average time these children are under the care of ORR is 45 days.  In November of 2018, the average time under ORR care was 93 days.

Below is a look inside this new Office of Refugee Resettlement facility:
Inside of the new Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) temporary influx shelter in Carrizo Springs, Texas.

On Sunday, I met with CBP officials in Yuma, Arizona to learn about their efforts to secure our southern border and manage the unprecedented flow of migrants into the United States.
First, CBP provided an aerial tour of the southern portion of the Yuma Sector, which consists of approximately 180,000 square miles and is manned by hundreds of border patrol agents. From the helicopter, the scope of the challenge facing our men and women serving in the Yuma Sector was clear. The Yuma sector includes 126 miles of border with Mexico and diverse landscapes that present border security challenges.
It is an honor to represent you in the U.S. Congress.


Landscape shots of the border from my helicopter ride.

I saw mountain ranges where smugglers pay people - known as “scouts” - to hide in caves for months on end.  They monitor the actions of CBP officers and alert the drug smugglers and human traffickers when it’s clear to cross into the U.S. These scouts are paid thousands of dollars a month to assist with the smuggling of migrants and narcotics into the United States.


One of the caves in the mountains used by “scouts” to monitor CBP officers.

I also saw miles of border fencing that greatly assists our CBP officers. Officials who patrol the border said these barriers are “force multipliers” that are especially helpful in blocking vehicle traffic and managing foot traffic. Aircraft, drones, and motion-detecting cameras also play an important role.


An example of part of the border barrier wall in Yuma, Arizona.

Following the aerial tour, I went to the Yuma Station CBP facility that handles the initial processing of migrants after they are apprehended while illegally crossing the border in the Yuma Sector. Approximately 270 migrants were in custody on Sunday, the majority of whom had already been processed by CBP officials.

CBP staff told me that upon arrival, migrants are given an initial health screening for medical conditions that need medication or immediate treatment. They are then able to take a shower and receive a pair of clean clothes to wear while their clothing is laundered. The possessions they have are inventoried, tagged, and stored.  Any medications are secured with medical providers and available to the person as prescribed. They get three meals and two snacks a day. While I was there I asked about the mylar blankets you see in press reports.  CBP told me that the mylar blankets are more hygienic and provide greater warmth than traditional blankets. Most importantly, they reduce the risk of spread of disease.


CBP facility in Yuma, Arizona had lots of supplies available including snacks, clothing, and washing machines.

In order to process the increasing number of migrant family units, Taxpayers will spend an estimated $15 million over the next four months to stand up and staff a temporary processing facility in Yuma. The facility is air conditioned and sanitary and provides far more space to migrant families than the permanent processing facility in Yuma, which I also toured. This facility was erected two weeks ago to help this sector provide proper overflow capacity following the overcrowding of the permanent facility.  At one point earlier this year, more than 1,600 migrants were held at one time in the permanent facility – far above its capacity -- because of this humanitarian crisis.

While migrant families are currently held in the temporary processing facility, the permanent facility is used to hold unaccompanied children and single adults in separate areas until they are referred to ORR or ICE.  Currently, the Yuma Sector is processing people and families within 72 hours, so migrants entering the United States are not staying here for an extended period. 

When I was there Sunday, I did not see evidence of overcrowding at the Yuma Facility.  The challenge is not knowing in advance how many people will cross our border on any given day or night.  Sometimes it’s 50 or 60, and sometimes it’s 500 or 600, as happened earlier this year in the Yuma Sector.  I asked the CBP officials about the overcrowding, and they showed me the areas where migrants were held earlier this year.  A temporary fence was put up in the parking lot of the permanent facility to fit everyone.  Space inside the facility was prioritized for families with children, and unaccompanied children.   

Currently, CBP workers devote nearly 50 percent of their time to processing migrants apprehended at the border, which detracts from their ability to stop drug traffickers from smuggling in deadly narcotics and other contraband. Statistics CBP shared with me show a decline in drug interdiction this year. In part that is attributable to the fact that CBP had to close inspection stations for months to divert agents to manage the flow of migrants.  With a reduction in the surge of migrants, CBP is able to allocate more agents to patrolling the border and interdicting narcotics. 

You can view the video messages from me here and here to learn more about my tour of the Carrizo Springs ORR facility and the CBP facility in Yuma, Arizona.

As I reported in my newsletter, the Inspector General has found troubling and unacceptable conditions at other CBP facilities. You can read about those situations here. A report of an alleged sexual assault at the Yuma facility is under investigation (as it should be) as well.  

Sadly, it was only a few months ago that some politicians claimed there was not humanitarian crisis at the border.  Some still make that claim.  While the facilities I visited over the weekend are modern, clean, and ready to provide needed respite and relief, I know there are other areas along the border that are still overwhelmed, and conditions are not adequate, as a result.

It remains clear to me that we must do more to secure the nation’s southern border and reform our outdated laws. 

It is an honor to represent you in the U.S. Congress.

Best regards,

Greg Walden
U.S. Representative
Oregon's Second District

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