EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Jabbing at Congress for not closing immigration law loopholes he says allow drug cartels to goad families into seeking asylum in the United States, a Trump administration official warns that the migrant crisis at the border isn’t over.
“Human-smuggling organizations could really teach a business class at Harvard. Every time we attack their current (tactics), they change and develop new ones,” said Acting U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan. “We stem the flow to a great extent in (Central America), so what do they do? They take social media ads and tell Mexican nationals, ‘If you grab a kid, that’s your passport into the United States,’ They do that because we have so many loopholes in our legal framework.”
Morgan on Tuesday stood in front of the border wall south of Downtown El Paso — with nearly 100 Border Patrol, National Guard and CBP officers in the background — to announce Fiscal Year 2019 migrant apprehension numbers. Federal agents detained more than 1.1 million unauthorized migrants from Oct. 1, 2018, to Sept. 30, 2019, with 970,000 of those apprehensions taking place at the Southwest border.
“And that’s not including the estimated 150,000 that got away, and we are being conservative with that number,” he said.
Although arrests have plummeted from a monthly high of 144,000 in May to 52,000 in September, Morgan said that’s still higher than before the crisis began with the arrival of the first migrant caravans from Central America last October.
“We’re still at 1,400 apprehensions per day, that’s still at crisis levels. Although we’ve made significant progress we’re still getting way too many. And the cartels are changing tactics … we’re seeing an uptick in Brazilians and Mexicans,” Morgan said.
He added that cooperation with Mexico — which deployed thousands of its own National Guard troops to the border with Guatemala in June, after the Trump administration threatened to impose tariffs — has been key to stemming the flow of illegal migration from Central America. But if Mexico were to let up on its cooperation, “we’re going to be looking at another increase (in illegal immigration), so we’re not out of the woods yet.”
Morgan used Tuesday’s forum to recognize the work of local CBP, Border Patrol and other law-enforcement agencies that contribute to daily border security. He also mentioned that the Trump administration completed 76 miles of border wall in Fiscal 2019 and expects to add another 450 miles by the end of 2020.
More than once he called for Congress to “get off the sidelines” and modify asylum law, which he says criminal organizations exploit to profit from would-be immigrants.
“We want to do this not just for the American people, but also for the families and the kids that are coming. They’re being abused by cartels and human-smuggling organizations that don’t see them as human, that see them as a commodity. That’s disgusting. That should bother all of us. … We should all want to stop this,” he said.
Morgan expressed support for the controversial Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP) program and wants leeway from Congress on the Flores Settlement, a legal agreement not to hold migrant children in custody longer than 20 days. MPP is a Trump administration program that makes asylum seekers wait in Mexico for the outcome of their asylum cases. Asked about a new pilot program called Prompt Asylum Claim Review, which is only being applied in El Paso, the Acting Commissioner said it was too soon to outline results or statistics.
Morgan’s comments, which were aired live on some internet websites, drew criticism from local immigration advocates.
Fernando Garcia, executive director of El Paso’s Border Network for Human Rights, said the apprehension numbers were being manipulated to exaggerate a crisis.
“A lot of people came to the border to present a lawful asylum case; they were not trying to sneak past the Border Patrol, yet they’re being counted as apprehensions,” Garcia said.
By saying it wants to “close the loopholes,” what the Trump administration is really trying to do is eliminate the right for citizens of other countries to ask for asylum in the United States, the activist said.
“We are talking about real people, real families that are fleeing genuine situations of peril. What the Trump administration should be doing is applying asylum law, applying due process instead of denying it,” Garcia said.
He explained that programs like MPP send Central Americans and others who are completely unfamiliar with Mexico to wait in dangerous border cities like Juarez without a guarantee of food, shelter, personal safety or access to lawyers hoping the migrants will give up. As for doing away with the Flores Settlement, “they would hold children in detention indefinitely, and that’s inhumane,” Garcia surmised.
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