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Posted: Aug 03, 2019 11:01 AMUpdated: Aug 03, 2019 11:01 AM

Congressman Hern Visits Bartlesville, Talks Immigration Bill and Flood Remedy

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Tom Davis

It was a busy Friday for Representative Kevin Hern (R, OK Dist 1) with visits to Vera and Bartlesville. 

Hern stopped by our radio station studios for an appearance on Community Connection hosted by Tom Davis after a stop in Vera and before his speech and Q and A at the Bartlesville Chamber of Commerce Forum held at the Bartlseville Community Center.

Representative Hern talked about a bill he'd introduced called the Asylum Abuse Reduction Act in the House of Representatives. He said a companion bill was introduced in the Senate by Senator Jim Inhofe.

Both Sen. Inhofe and Rep. Hern have visited the Southern border to see firsthand the state of the crisis that Customs and Border Patrol are dealing with. The uptick in asylum applicants is causing a backlog at the border and in our immigration courts.

“I’ve seen for myself the backlog at our Southern border,” said Rep. Hern. “Our border agents are over-worked, and the immigration courts are weighed down with too many cases to possibly keep up with the new arrivals. The Asylum Abuse Reduction Act will provide relief and get us back on the path to order. I’m proud to be the sponsor of this bill and introduce it to the House today, I look forward to earning the support of my colleagues for this legislation and hope to see it pass the House soon.”

“The asylum process should be for those who truly need it—not individuals using it after they are caught illegally crossing the border in an attempt to avoid deportation,” Sen. Inhofe said. “That’s why I’m reintroducing my Asylum Abuse Reduction Act. By reforming our asylum process, we can minimize false asylum claims, ease the backlog on our immigration courts and end ‘catch and release’—all while improving the process for those who truly need it. The border is in a serious crisis. President Trump gets that—he really does—and he is changing it. I am proud of the administration’s continued work to build the wall, increase support for ICE and Customs and Border Protection agents and eliminate sanctuary cities. With the addition of the Asylum Abuse Reduction Act, we can make real reform to our broken immigration system and secure the southern border.”

The Asylum Abuse Reduction Act aims to reduce the amount of people abusing the asylum process by requiring migrants to declare asylum at an embassy or consulate in Mexico or Canada before entering the United States. Migrants who cross the border illegally and claim asylum at ports of entry rarely show up for the legal proceedings to complete the asylum process, disappearing into our country. This new requirement will prevent migrants seeking asylum from entering our country before the asylum process.

The bill also creates a criminal bench warrant for immigrants that have failed to show up for immigration court. As of now, when an illegal immigrant does not show up for their asylum hearing, their information is not entered into police databases. With this bill, that will be amended. If an immigrant who did not attend their court date is stopped for an unrelated offense, like speeding, there will be a warrant in the system for violating immigration law.

This legislation creates a pilot program for detention alternatives. The Flores decision says that we can’t detain illegal immigrants with children or families for more than 20 days. With the backlog in immigration court, most families are released before their hearing day and consequently never show up to court. Under the Asylum Abuse Reduction Act, pilot programs will be authorized, allowing families to be released to a qualified organization that contracts with the federal government to ensure migrants comply with immigration proceedings.

The last pillar of the Asylum Abuse Reduction Act is to codify President Trump’s Third Country Asylum Rule. This rule prohibits migrants from claiming asylum unless he or she has applied for protection from persecution or torture in at least one country outside the migrant’s country of citizenship and was denied asylum by that country. There is an exception for migrants that are victims of human trafficking.

Background:

Previous administrations have operated under a policy of “catch and release,” where many illegal immigrants caught crossing the border illegally are given citations for appearing in court, but then released into the United States. Recent data from Department of Justice makes it clear: 44% of immigrants accused of illegal border crossings simply never appear for their court proceedings.

The asylum process has also been abused in the past, with immigrants entering the country after declaring asylum, but never completing the process by attending court dates or necessary interview with immigration officials, thereby never receiving proper documentation. We’ve also experienced a dramatic increase in the number of individuals claiming asylum.

Representative Hern also talked to us about the recent floods and the fruit of some of the meetings he'd held with the government agencies involved in some "lessons learned" sessions.

Hern took those ideas and teamed up with Senators James Lankford (R-OK) and Jim Inhofe (R-OK), to write a letter to urge the US Army Corps of Engineers to complete the feasibility study for the Tulsa-West Tulsa levees by the end of this year.

The feasibility study is a key first step to modernizing the aging levee system. The members also request the immediate implementation of critical improvements following the conclusion of the study. 

The letter is available here and pasted below.

"Dear Assistant Secretary James and Lt. General Semonite,

We write urging that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) take all appropriate measures to complete the Tulsa West Tulsa Levee System Feasibility Study before the end of this calendar year to ensure necessary upgrades to the system can be included in the President’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget request to Congress early next year. Further, we urge the immediate implementation of the critical improvements to the levee system upon the conclusion of the study.

The recent, devastating flooding along the Arkansas River made clear how dependent much of Tulsa County’s critical infrastructure is on a 75 year old levee system. Moreover, this most recent flood event lasted more than seven days, putting incredible strain on the aging levee system. More than ten years ago, the U.S. Army Corps rated the Tulsa West Tulsa levees as “unacceptable”, making clear the need and urgency for modernization and upgrades. Without improvement, it is unclear how much longer the levee system can continue to provide critical protection to the Tulsa County community.

The ongoing Feasibility Study must be completed so structural improvements to the system critical to reducing the risk of failure during future flood events can be completed. The improvements should utilize current, state-of-art techniques wherever feasible to minimize future risks to life and property and to reduce future maintenance requirements associated with older techniques utilized in the existing levees. 

The Tulsa West Tulsa Levee System protects thousands of Oklahomans and more than $2 billion in public and private infrastructure. Finalizing the Feasibility Study before the end of this calendar year would enable the necessary upgrades to be included in next year’s budget process—ensuring the levee system can continue to protect Oklahomans for another 75 years."

A bill is being worked on regarding this process.


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