OMAHA — Border Patrol agents and people in southern Arizona told U.S. Rep. Mike Flood this week that the status quo along the border with Mexico is not safe for Americans or migrants, the congressman said Thursday.

Flood, a Nebraska Republican, said seeing the situation himself convinced him that the Biden administration and Congress need to rethink their approach to border enforcement and people seeking asylum.

“One of the agents said at 4 a.m. there are 500 people waiting to be taken in custody,” he said. “If people in the City of Lincoln were dealing with this, they’d want the military out.”

Flood said he would like to see the federal government stop releasing people detained by Border Patrol into the U.S. while they await a court date that might be years later.

He said he’d like President Joe Biden to revive the Trump-era policy of releasing migrants back into Mexico or detaining asylum seekers until they can see a judge.

“Right now they get a court date and they’re in business in the United States,” he said. “You shouldn’t know that there are no consequences. … Consequences shut down the flow of people.”

Would fund more detention centers, judges
Immigrant advocates have criticized former President Donald Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy and increased detentions of people trying to cross into the United States as inhumane.

Flood said he would be willing to fund the number of detention centers and judges it might take to house and handle the caseloads of hundreds of thousands of migrants.

Rebecca Gonzales, an advocate for immigrants in Nebraska, said Flood’s idea is not practical or affordable. It would cost billions of dollars and would take years to implement, she said.

“There’s not that many judges,” she said. “How long are we talking about keeping someone in detention? These are families, not just adults. You’d have to provide space.”

The Department of Homeland Security has said it costs an average of $142 a day to detain an immigrant trying to enter the country illegally.

Flood’s opponent in November’s general election, State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln, declined through a campaign spokesman Thursday to comment on Flood’s border trip.

Cost to illegal crossing
Like many of his House Republican colleagues who have visited the border, Flood said there needs to be a cost to crossing the border illegally.

Fewer people crossing the border at the same time would make it easier for law enforcement officers to stop more of the criminal gangs smuggling drugs and people across the border, he said.

Flood accepted an invitation to visit the border from Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Arizona, having read up on what he might see. The scale of “the humanitarian and national security crisis” surprised him.

This year, border crossings stopped by law enforcement in the southwestern U.S., likely eclipsed 2 million in August, federal statistics show.

That’s higher than any year on record. The next closest was 2000, when 1.64 million were logged, according to U.S. Border Patrol records of crossing encounters from 1960-2022.

Around Yuma, Flood said he saw identification cards strewn on the ground from Mexico, Cuba, Nicaragua, Peru and India. He heard horror stories about human trafficking.

He said he saw an 8-year-old boy playing in a detention center who came without his parents.

Flood faced criticism during his GOP primary race against former Rep. Jeff Fortenberry for passing prenatal care for the U.S.-born children of women in Nebraska who had entered the country illegally.

Fortenberry withdrew from the GOP race in March after he was convicted of three felonies related to accepting foreign funds raised illegally for a previous congressional campaign.

Flood said it is possible to be humane while opposing and trying to deter illegal immigration. The key, he said, is telling migrants the truth about the journey and its costs.

Many people trying to cross into the U.S., he said, are paying thousands of dollars to coyotes to show them the way. Once they get there, many are held in indentured servitude to those coyotes.

“I think this is seen as a partisan issue, and it is not,” he said.

Workforce impact
Flood acknowledged that getting tougher along the border might affect Nebraska agriculture and other employers who have hired immigrants in the country illegally.

About 60,000 people — or 3% of Nebraska’s total population — are in the country without paperwork, according to the American Immigrant Council.

Flood said Congress and the president should work toward making the legal immigration system more efficient, including continuing to reduce a backlog of visa applications still 380,000 strong.

“I do know that there is a need for workforce in Nebraska, but we should never rely on any illegal immigration because you’ve got a class of people that are extremely vulnerable,” he said.

Nebraska Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nebraska Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Cate Folsom for questions: [email protected] Follow Nebraska Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

Mike Flood is the founder and an owner of Flood Communications and News Channel Nebraska. All stories about him and any declared candidates in the Nebraska First Congressional District race during the remainder of his campaign and/or ensuing tenure in office have been and will be written by outside media outlets.