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As Texans go, Michael Cloud is more down-to-earth than boisterous. The freshman member of Congress is reserved and deliberate, answering questions with a soft drawl and a quick smile. Before coming to Congress in a special election last year to replace Representative Blake Farenthold, Cloud owned a video production company. In the years prior, he served on the staff of his local church. His wife, Rosel, a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Mexico, teaches school in the area where they’ve lived for more than 20 years.
But Cloud’s peaceful demeanor belies a rock-ribbed determination to address the crisis at the southern border.
While most of his colleagues were on vacation over the Memorial Day recess, Cloud was in Laredo and the Rio Grande, showing his colleagues Jody Hice (R-Ga.) and Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.) the details of the border crisis first-hand. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), a Democrat from the neighboring congressional district, joined them for part of the visit.
Cloud represents the Corpus Christi and Victoria areas of Texas, in a district which gently curves along the Gulf Coast, a little over 150 miles from the border. The congressman is a frequent visitor to border checkpoints, where he meets with border patrol officers, gets updated statistics, and sees up close the chaos that most of us only read about.
The first-hand accounts from border patrol are incredibly valuable, he tells me, during a conversation in his D.C. office last week.
“You hear things like, ‘I was standing here three weeks ago when tracer rounds were shot over my head from Mexico,’ or ‘I took the lady to the hospital who was hit with a .50 caliber round that went through her trailer home that was fired from Mexico,’” Cloud said.
“If most people knew what was going on,” Cloud continued, “they’d be able to make better informed decisions.”
The Cartels Are the Villains
This is what Cloud aims to achieve by leading congressional delegations to the border. For both Hice and Grothman, the trip was an eye-opener.
“I saw for myself that we have a genuine national emergency that’s already out of control,” Hice said in a statement. “Time and time again, I heard from our border patrol agents that we are at—or well beyond—full capacity.” The trip, he said, provided a “shocking firsthand look at just how easy it is for cartels to exploit our open border.”
Indeed, the cartels are a key concern for Cloud, who is visibly frustrated that the partisan entrenchment over immigration policy has meant very little is being done to address the rampant criminality on the border.
“I had just gotten to Congress,” he explained, “and you had Democrats blaming Republicans and Republicans blaming Democrats and I’m standing here going ‘it’s the cartels! The cartels are the villains!’”
“You’d think we’d have bipartisan support, at least, that the cartels are bad, and we should not be helping them,” Cloud said. “I mean, what’s going on at the border is impacting neighborhoods all over the country. This should be a much higher priority.”
But the lack of action by Congress, and the continued focus from Democrats on passing the DREAM Act and other amnesty measures that encourage further illegal immigration, have simply aided and abetted the growth of the cartel activity.
Cartels are making about $80 million a week on cross-border criminal activity, Cloud said. That number comports with a recent study by the RAND Corporation, which estimates that cartels made $2.3 billion in 2017 from human trafficking and drug smuggling.
And yet the impact on American communities is rarely a topic of national attention.
“At some of the places on the border,” Cloud said, shaking his head, “you see these beaten dirt paths where drugs, migrants, traffickers, are coming across and it’s literally steps from a neighborhood in the United States. Those areas deserve to be protected.”
On the other side of all of this criminal activity, of course, are the victims. The crisis of sexual assault at the border has been well-documented by the New York Times, the Huffington Post, Doctors Without Borders, and other outlets, often in graphic detail. A survey by Fusion estimates that 80 percent of women and girls are raped on their way to the U.S. border. Traffickers have a name for them: nueva carne. New meat.
During their visit, Cloud, Hice, and Grothman toured a facility in Driscoll, Texas, housing unaccompanied girls under the age of 18 who crossed the border alone.
“They were in class when we were there,” Cloud recounted, “but in one of the bedrooms I saw a sketch that simply said ‘I miss mom.’”
In an arresting statistic, 40 percent of the girls housed in the facility Cloud visited had been sexually assaulted on their way to the U.S. border.
A Basic Need for Resources
All of this—the illegal crossings, the drug trade, the human trafficking—continues unabated due to one reason: a lack of resources.
“In the Laredo sector we visited,” Cloud explained, “they have cameras that only cover about 30 percent of the territory they’re supposed to be monitoring—that is, when the cameras are working, which is about 75 percent of the time. And the cameras are from the 1990s. Meanwhile the cartels are flying modern day drones on the other side of the border to monitor what we’re doing.”
“The big thing right now is manpower,” he continued. “And the infrastructure to go along with that. They’re hand in hand. It’s a system. The wall gets a lot of attention but it’s part of a system. You need the technology, you need the boots on the ground, you need immigration judges to hold asylum hearings. They should be done within 30 minutes of someone crossing the border, not two years later.”
But the goal is even more basic than that. “We’re even trying to just get the resources to where we have situational awareness of what’s going on at the border, so we can understand what the cartels are doing,” he said.
“I would think the goal would be, let’s stop the cartels, let’s stop the drugs coming into the country, let’s stop the slave trade, let’s stop these things, but we don’t have the resources to even begin tackling that,” Cloud added.
In early May, the Trump Administration sent a request for additional funds for the border, noting that several accounts would be completely drained by the end of the fiscal year. Of the $4.5 billion request, $3.3 billion would be allocated for humanitarian purposes. The rest would be earmarked for increasing detention facilities and border security resources.
Democrats have continued to block the requested appropriation.
I ask Cloud about this, and the fact that Democrats would rather spend floor time passing the DREAM Act than appropriating money to help sick children and trafficked women.
He sighed. So much of what happens on the House floor nowadays, he replied, is “political posturing for the next campaign.”
“It’s sad to me that few and far between are these discussions where people actually . . . talk policy and what fixes it, and how do we find common ground, and how do we move forward and take care of people,” Cloud told me.
But he recognizes that none of this is easy. “There are no good options on the table right now,” he said. “We’ve passed the point of all the good options. We’re to the point of dealing with an emergency situation that we’ve allowed to fester for a long time.”
Best of a Bad Situation?
In the face of Democratic intransigence, Cloud is urging President Trump to do what he can with the authority he already has. Cloud recently joined several of his colleagues in sending President Trump a letter, outlining steps his agencies could take to more fully address the border crisis. One of the suggestions—aligning Mexico with the international standard for asylum seekers—is high on the president’s request list in his ongoing negotiations.
Meanwhile, Cloud is clear about how he views Democrats’ refusal to even consider sending more resources to the border, voting instead last week to grant permanent legal status to “Dreamers” (illegal immigrants brought to the United States before they turned 18), and those with temporary protected status.
During committee consideration of the DREAM Act, Democrats voted down Republican amendments that would have barred legal status to illegal immigrants convicted of a DUI causing death or serious injury, a misdemeanor firearm crime, or individuals with known gang affiliations.
I asked Cloud what he thinks about the Democrats’ approach. He gives me the straightforward, no-nonsense answer of a Texan who has seen the true impact of the illegal immigration crisis on American communities, border patrol officers, and the illegal immigrants themselves.
“It’s a feigned compassion. It’s a faux compassion. Somehow, we’ve gotten away with thinking that lawlessness is compassion. And it’s not.”
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Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images