SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Sen. Mike Lee and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz say they heard jeers from people they identified as drug smugglers and cartel members across the Rio Grande late Thursday night.

“They were yelling at us, taunting, shining high-candle power flashlights across the river at us basically saying, ‘We’re coming,’” Lee told Fox News on Friday.

Lee and Cruz are among 18 Republican senators in Texas to get a firsthand look at the crisis at the border with Mexico as thousands of migrants, including unaccompanied children, stream to the U.S. seeking asylum.

“We want to get to the bottom of what’s happening,” Lee said.

On Friday, Lee said that it was “deeply troubling” to see hundreds of people at the border, many from Guatemala and Honduras, who had entrusted their lives to smugglers and drug cartels.

“It’s a crisis brought about by the deliberate, willful nonenforcement of U.S. law, facilitating the exploitation of women and children,” he said in a video posted on Twitter. “This is a tragedy and it’s got to stop.”

Lee tweeted that he and his GOP colleagues visited a temporary processing facility in Donna, Texas. He said it is designed to handle no more than 1,000 people, and with current COVID-19 safety guidelines that number drops to 250 people.

“They’re currently handling 4,200 people. Many are testing positive for COVID-19. This is what the Biden Administration doesn’t want the American people to see,” he tweeted.

In a news conference Friday afternoon in Mission, Texas, where Lee served as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 30 years ago, he described his visits with migrants the past two days as a “tragically moving” experience, one he said he hopes reporters will have “as painful as it is.”

Lee criticized Biden for cutting off access to the border and barring the press from overcrowded detention centers.

“They’ve made it into a press free zone, which is why we’re going to have to tell the story for the country. Now look, we’re not journalists, we’re not good at any of that, but if we’re the only Americans that can be allowed in there, we’re going to tell the story,” Lee said.

In his news conference Thursday, President Joe Biden said journalists would have “full access to everything” once the administration begins to roll out its new border response plans. Biden made Vice President Kamala Harris the immigration point person amid the surge.

What Sen. Mike Lee said in Spanish to people thinking about illegally crossing the border

Before traveling to Texas, Lee condemned the Biden administration for creating a crisis at the southern border, which he said was created by its own immigration policies. Lee said the problems could be solved by going back to or expanding some now-abandoned Trump-era policies, including the “safe third country” asylum rule and the ability to send unaccompanied minors back to their own countries.

Lee has proposed legislation that he said would help stem the flood of illegal immigrants, eliminate the incentive to send children to the border alone and dampen the power of cartels and coyotes. Senate Democrats, however, refused to consider the bill.

“What we’re looking at here is human trafficking. You have mothers and fathers putting their kids going on this road going north thinking it’s going to be a good one for them. People’s lives are being put at risk and lost as the Democratic Party uses this process to get power,” Rep. Burgess Owen, R-Utah, said Thursday on the Fox Business Channel.

Biden’s reversal of Trump administration immigration policies is either incompetence or on purpose just because they came from the previous president, he said.

Owens went on to say the “hard left” is filled with socialists and Marxists who “bring chaos to everything they do.

“See what’s going on in our Congress right now. We don’t have anything close to a constitutional republic right now. We have dictatorship,” he said. “We have bills going through the House. America has no idea what coming through with it. It is chaos right now.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection detained nearly 100,000 migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border in February, the 10th consecutive month of increased apprehensions and a return to levels last seen in mid-2019, according to the Pew Research Center.

As migrant apprehensions have soared, many children have been detained longer than the three-day limit allowed under law due to a lack of space at shelters.

Border agents are not testing migrant children packed into detention facilities for COVID-19, a Biden administration official said Thursday. The official said children are tested when they are transferred to sites run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency or the Department of Health and Human Services.

“It’s a tragedy that we make it harder for U.S. citizens to come back to their own country than we do for people who are coming here illegally, enriching the drug cartels in the process,” Lee said on Fox.

In January, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began requiring all air passengers, including American citizens, arriving in the U.S. from a foreign country to get tested no more than three days before their flight departs and to present the negative result or documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 to the airline before boarding the flight.

Lee said he was told by “some sources” that people traveling in caravans to the border are testing positive for the virus at a rate seven times that of people in the U.S.

“This is unacceptable,” he said. “It absolutely defies reason and logic.”