May 09, 2023

Rep. Castro: “Cruel, restrictive policies like Title 42 and Remain in Mexico do not stop desperate people from fleeing persecution, oppression, and violence.”

In Testimony Before the House Rules Committee, Congressman Castro Slams Counterproductive and Dangerous Proposals in H.R. 2, the So-Called “Secure the Border Act”

WASHINGTON – Today, Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20), ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, testified in opposition to Title III of H.R. 2, Republican legislation that would end nearly all access to humanitarian protections for asylum-seekers fleeing from violence and persecution. 

Castro Testimony

To watch Congressman Castro’s full testimony, click here.

Congressman Castro’s remarks are below:

Thank you, Chairman Cole, Ranking Member McGovern, and Members of the Rules Committee. And thank you for the opportunity to testify in opposition specifically to Title III of H.R. 2, which was marked up in the House Foreign Affairs Committee as H.R. 1690 the ORDER Act.

I'm glad to join you in my capacity as ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere.

Last year marked 100 years since my grandmother, Victoria Castro, came to the United States as a young orphan in the wake of the Mexican Revolution.

On her paperwork, the San Antonio relatives who took her in wrote that she was coming “to live” in America.

She found a better life, just as many of your ancestors did -- the Irish, the Germans, the English, the Spanish immigrants with descendants in this room.

Today, we face different challenges with migration.

And I don't think there's a single person in this room who believes that our current immigration system meets our country's needs.

But instead of tackling these challenges head-on, Title III of this bill would institute destructive, dangerous policies that force vulnerable asylum seekers into even more desperate circumstances.

When similar protocols were previously in place. human rights observers recorded thousands of violent attacks against migrants sent to Mexico, including kidnapping, rape and other very brutal crimes.

That so-called Remain in Mexico policy, as cruel as it was, included exemptions for unaccompanied minors and people who don't speak Spanish. This bill includes neither of those exemptions.

If H.R. 2 becomes law, asylum seekers from across the world would be required to first apply for asylum in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador, countries that, combined have less than 1/10 of the U.S. GDP.

And let's be honest, many people in this room won't even drink the water when they go to these countries.

Some advocates for the bill have described this as “burden sharing.”

But the countries named in this bill cannot shoulder the same burden as the world's largest economy -- our nation -- nor should they be expected to.

When we talk about immigration policy, I think folks often lose sight of the real people that our discussions affect.

Last month in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I introduced an amendment to exempt people with disabilities, persecuted religious minorities, and even Ukrainian refugees from this bill. But every single member of the Republican majority voted it down.

Under H.R. 2, as drafted, if a Uyghur Muslim escapes one of China's concentration camps in Xinjiang, makes it to Mexico, and seeks asylum in the United States, the United States would force that person to remain in Mexico.

If a group of Cuban dissidents sail to Florida and land outside of a Port of Entry, they would not be allowed to apply for asylum.

Under this bill, Ukrainians fleeing Russia's brutal invasion of their homeland, Catholics fleeing religious persecution in Nicaragua, and Christians or other religious minorities fleeing Iran would all be required to remain in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, or El Salvador rather than unite with family right here in the United States.

Many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle have expressed concerns about how the current immigration system will be able to handle a rising number of immigrants post-Title 42. And I agree that we need to build a more resilient and more efficient and effective system.

But what we've seen time and time again is that cruel, restrictive policies like Title 42 and Remain in Mexico do not stop desperate people from fleeing persecution, oppression, and violence. This bill, sadly, is a way to get rid of a problem without solving it, and that's the best that we could hope to accomplish by passing this piece of legislation.

Instead, it forces vulnerable people to take dangerous irregular paths to the United States -- the exact kind of journey that led to the deaths of 53 people in the back of a sweltering tractor trailer in my hometown of San Antonio last summer.

H.R. 2 also ends humanitarian parole, except in very limited circumstances.

Since the February 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, the United States, for example, has admitted 150,000 Ukrainians and their family members on humanitarian parole.

If we pass H.R. 2, these families, fleeing Putin's invasion would lose the ability to be in the United States. Let me say that again. They would lose the ability to be in the United States.

The Afghans who fought alongside the United States and were evacuated from Kabul in August 2021 are largely in the United States through humanitarian parole. If we pass H.R. 2, they would lose the ability to remain in the United States.

In February of this year, the United States evacuated 222 brave Nicaraguans who were imprisoned by the Ortega-Murillo regime. They are here with their families on parole. And two of these individuals testified to the House Foreign Affairs Committee in March. They, too, would lose their status.

Mr. Chairman, there are meaningful bipartisan solutions to address the causes of forced migration to the United States. And I've been proud to work across the aisle to introduce several bills that would expand the scope of U.S. foreign assistance to encourage sustainable economic development in many of these countries that we're talking about today.

Unfortunately, H.R. 2 does not include any serious attempt to address the root causes of migration, and so people will keep coming.

This bill is harmful and counterproductive. It betrays our nation's legal and moral obligations to asylum seekers who deserve better, and it betrays America's legacy.

Before I yield, I want to make a brief point about the rhetoric used during this debate in this Congress and in this country.

In 2019, a madman in my home state of Texas drove 10 hours to El Paso, Texas, and murdered 23 people, including American citizens, to stop what he called the Hispanic “invasion.”

When members of Congress use their elevated platforms to dehumanize migrants and fearmonger about, “illegals,” “aliens,” and “invasions,” their words have consequences that echo far beyond these halls.

The language that we use matters. And I urge members of this committee and of this Congress to be mindful about how your rhetoric can put a target on the backs of migrants.