Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst returned Monday from a trip to the U.S-Mexico border with a message for her constituents: “The humanitarian crisis at our southern border is absolutely real.”
Ernst, in the midst of her first re-election campaign, discussed the trip on the Simon Conway Show, a conservative radio program hosted in Des Moines.
The senator told Conway she visited the cities of Donna and McAllen in Texas, as well as the Hidalgo Port of Entry run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. She also toured facilities operated by nongovernmental organizations to house unaccompanied minors crossing the southern border.
“I saw firsthand what is going on there, and what I want to get out first and foremost is that our border patrol agents are doing a tremendous job,” said Ernst, describing the men and women as “good-hearted” and “extremely compassionate.”
“They were taking dollars out of their pockets — when Democrats refused to step up and help us fund the items necessary for these areas — to pay for diapers and formula and hygiene items for the men and women that are there,” she added.
Just in time for the July 4 holiday, the Democratic-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate compromised on a $4.5 billion border aid bill.
When negotiations first began, the House resisted the Senate bill — ultimately passing both chambers — because a portion of the funding was allocated for “military expenses along the border,” according to the Texas Tribune.
Senate Republicans resisted the House bill, arguing it was too restrictive in how the Department of Human Services could spend the money allocated for hygiene items and food.
President Donald Trump signed the bipartisan legislation July 1.
In a back-and-forth with Conway about the overcrowded detention facilities, Ernst compared the max-capacity of migrants to an unexpected crowd at Thanksgiving dinner.
“These facilities are at their maximum capacity,” she said. “And so the way I describe it is, hey, we’re used to a certain number of folks that will come to the border. We know that. That’s gone on for years and years and years. But, it’s just like Thanksgiving dinner. You make Thanksgiving dinner for your family, maybe 10 people, but a thousand show up at your door expecting Thanksgiving dinner. What do you do? You’ve only got two legs, come on. It is a crisis.”
Iowa’s junior senator went on to relay observations from her weekend trip to the detention centers, imploring politicians to deal with “a crisis at the border … in a bipartisan way.”
“We need to sit down and talk through solutions instead of using these migrants as pawns, which is exactly what’s happening,” she said.
Ernst said she was told the migrants were “receiving [medical] care,” but it was obvious the system was “overwhelmed.”
“It’s overwhelmed,” Ernst said, describing her observations as she walked through the facilities. “But I felt completely safe and at ease.
“Even walking in and around the migrants, I felt comfortable,” she said. “Not all of them were in restricted areas. Some of them were sitting, waiting to be processed and some were going through their health screenings — and they all are going through health screenings. They’re being provided medical care.”
By Elizabeth Meyer