SANTA ANA (CNS) - Rep. Gilbert Cisneros Jr., D-Fullerton, said after joining a delegation of nearly two dozen lawmakers visiting the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas, today that he is more committed than ever to "comprehensive immigration reform."
Cisneros said the Homeland Security's Migrant Protection Protocol is pushing amnesty seekers on the border from facilities in the U.S. back into Mexico.
"More than ever today I learned we need comprehensive immigration reform," Cisneros said. "We heard it from border patrol, advocates, lawyers.
Our system is broken. We're not only taking way too long to process (migrants) into the United States. We were told some people who seek asylum can take up to a year to get a hearing."
Mexican consulate officials said it can take up to 24 years before family members could apply for citizenship and join the rest of their family here, he said.
"That's way too long, and we need to fix the system and we need to fix it now," he told City News Service.
The border patrol facility the delegation visited on Thursday used to hold up to 5,000 migrants, but now holds about 200, Cisneros said.
When migrants request asylum now they are sent back to Mexico instead of being held in the facility stateside or being allowed to stay with patrons or other relatives in the U.S. as they await an immigration hearing.
"We have men trying to escape gang violence, women and girls escaping trying to become sex slaves to gangs, and what we're doing is sending them back to Mexico with no protection," Cisneros said. "There are a number of them living in facilities there, but the vast majority of them are just out there on the streets. It's just a horrible situation. We're pushing the problem back into Mexico and letting them deal with it."
Cisneros said he was "shocked" to hear that now Cuban refugees are opting to get into the country through Mexico.
"Today, when we went to the border patrol facility they told us how one gentleman, a migrant, had died in their care," Cisneros said.
The man came to the country with his 8-year-old daughter and a neighbor and was sent back to Mexico to wait, Cisneros said.
"And in his desperate to get to the United States he attempted another crossing" illegally, Cisneros said.
"He was picked up by border patrol and died in their care this morning," Cisneros said. "Now his daughter is here alone except for the neighbor who came with them."
Cisneros voted against the $4.5 billion bill providing funding for the border issues in June because he felt it "needed more oversight."
Cisneros wants to return to previous policy of allowing migrants to remain free in the country with sponsors as they await immigration hearings.
"We need to go back to the way things were," he said.
He added that he favors "something that speeds up the process" and can "create a path to citizenship" for asylum seekers, many of whom say they are fleeing high crime and violence in Central American countries.
Cisneros rejected President Donald Trump's arguments that many of the migrants are dangerous and are lying about seeking asylum.
"All these people we saw today are just trying to make a better life for themselves like so many other immigrants have," Cisneros said. "That's always been the American dream, the American way and it needs to continue."
The delegation plans to visit an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility where migrants are being held on Friday, Cisneros said.