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Cornyn Gonna Con: How Recent Comments By Sen. Cornyn Illustrate the GOP’s Misinformation Efforts on the Border, Drugs and Migrants

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Washington, DC – Sen. John Cornyn’s comments on border security and immigration this week are completely consistent with his brand and fit into what we at America’s Voice call the “Cornyn Con.” The senior Texas Senator goes to great lengths to sound reasonable on immigration and border issues – differentiating himself to some degree from the xenophobic border firebrands who run the Texas GOP – but every move Cornyn makes is carefully crafted to make sure real immigration reform never happens.

For example, this week, Sen. Cornyn was asked to comment on Florida Republican Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar’s proposed immigration bill to legalize some immigrants if, and only if, the border is certified as “secure.” Cornyn said some encouraging things about wanting to work with her, but made it abundantly clear that the border-security-first approach was key to his support. Cornyn told Medill on the Hill:

“Until we stop the humanitarian crisis on the border now, where we’ve seen two million encounters over the last year, it’s going to be hard to do other things in that immigration area because I don’t think my constituents would stand for it.”

On border security, Sen. Cornyn and many other Republicans are playing a similar game.  Cornyn took to the Senate floor this week to attack President Biden’s “open borders” policies and tied them to the importation of Fentanyl, the deadly illicit drug that kills more than 100,000 Americans each year. Per Sen. Cornyn on Twitter

“Pres. Biden’s open borders policies are letting drugs like Fentanyl pour into our communities. This cannot go on – we must secure the border.”

Sen. Cornyn and his fellow Republicans have been relentless in falsely equating large numbers of migrants being “encountered” by authorities at the border with large numbers of new migrants entering the country successfully. And now they are increasingly adding drugs like Fentanyl to their disinformation recipe. Let’s review:

  • Immigration is way down: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, net international immigration to the United States is only 25% of what it was five years ago. There has been a drop in net migration from more than 1 million in 2016 to less than 250,000 in 2021. Along with an aging population and declining birth rates, this is contributing to worker shortages in the U.S. and slowing the U.S. economy.
  • Almost 80% of the people “encountered” at the border are detained or expelled: Almost 80% of those encountered by authorities at the border are immediately removed, put in detention, or in the case of children, put in a government run or contracted shelter. 
  • For the 20% released, almost all show up in court: A little more than 20% are released with a notice to appear in court to further an asylum claim, and almost all show up for those court appointments. The latest data from January 2021 compiled by the American Immigration Council indicates that 83% of non-detained immigrants show up for all of their hearings in what is often a multi-year process, while 96% of those with legal representation do. A further 15% of those deported in absentia are able to reopen their cases.
  • Many ”encounters” are multi-counted: The immediate expulsion of most migrants has significantly increased the number of migrants counted as “encounters” because they repeatedly try to reenter the country, according to the CBP. As many as 500,000 of the almost 2 million encounters are repeats.
  • U.S. policies manufacture irregular immigration where there once was regular immigration: As David J. Bier at the Cato Institute noted in his report out this week, “How the U.S. Created Cuban and Haitian Illegal Migration,” closing off U.S. ports of entry contributes to the irregular flow between ports of entry, people who are counted as “encounters.” For example, in October 2016, of the more than 7,500 who sought asylum from Haiti and Cuba, just 6 people from those two countries were caught entering “illegally.” He continues: 

“Not 6 percent: six total individuals, meaning that 99.9 percent of all crossings from these two countries happened legally through lawful ports of entry (in Oct. 2016). In October 2021, nearly 7,000 crossed, and 99.7 percent did so illegally.”

  • Republicans voted against money used to seize drugs at the border: Like most House and Senate Republicans, Sen. Cornyn voted against the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the $1.2 trillion bipartisan bill that invests in technologies and infrastructure – including “$430 million to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for the construction and modernization of land ports of entry and equipment and fixtures for operations,” according to the National Immigration Forum.
  • Improved screenings stop more drugs: Ports of entry are where almost all of the drug seizures – especially of Fentanyl – take place. Almost none of the Fentanyl or other drugs that enter the U.S. are on the bodies of asylum seekers or others entering the country between ports of entry. When Republicans suggest otherwise, it displays a striking ignorance of the sophistication of the illicit drug trade and reveals they are only trying to score political points. As the Washington Post reported this week, new screening technology – paid for by the kind of bill Cornyn and most Republicans opposed – is showing results in terms of Fentanyl seizures by analyzing the contents of trucks. However, only 5% of trucks entering the U.S. are being screened with the new scanner technology.

According to Douglas Rivlin, Director of Communication for America’s Voice,

Senator Cornyn is ramping up the Cornyn Con again by appearing to embrace the kind of immigration reform Americans and Texans want – legal immigration and legal status for immigrants – while engaging in the kind of partisan politicization of border issues and immigrant demonization that makes real reform nearly impossible. 

He is perhaps the slickest and most insidious proponent of the GOP’s misinformation campaign about the border, but in Texas, he is certainly not alone. The entire Republican Party of Texas has become a mouthpiece for crazy conspiracy theories about immigrant ‘invasions’, plots to ‘replace’ white Americans, and violent encounters to shut down a Texas butterfly sanctuary they believe is a conduit of people smuggling.

We need less political partisanship and more genuine statesmanship. It is glaringly transparent that Republicans want issues that enrage voters rather than solutions that address making the lives of those voters better.

  • See here for previous AV statements and analysis of “The Cornyn Con”
  • See here for a recent AV roundup of GOP anti-immigrant ads and statements on display just the past few weeks.
  • Check out ongoing examples of Republicans’ anti-immigrant ads at the America’s Voice GOP Ad Tracker: http://gopadtracker.com/