The numbers and the numerous factors at the southern border with Mexico

WASHINGTON, DC, FAR WEST TEXAS – Inside the Ronald Reagan Building at 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. in the nation’s capital on Tuesday, CBP Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan and United States Border Patrol Chief of Operations Brian Hastings held a briefing to address and discus current migrations trends, emphasizing the large uptick in apprehensions along the Southwest Border.

“El Paso is experiencing these trends and increases more than any other place along the border this fiscal year,” explained McAleenan. Both Chief Hastings and Commissioner McAleenan highlighted challenges faced by the El Paso Border Patrol sector as the El Paso sector alone, witnessed a 434 percent increase in apprehensions during the current fiscal year. According to statements reported to the New York Times, a volunteer network that temporarily houses the migrants after they are released from custody has had to expand to 20 facilities, compared with only three during the same period last year. Migrants are now being housed in churches, a converted nursing home and about 125 hotel rooms that are being paid for with donations.

“The system is well beyond capacity, and remains at the breaking point,” Kevin K. McAleenan, commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, told reporters in announcing a mass of new data.

The number of migrant families crossing the southwest border has broken records, not once, but for the fourth time in five months, border enforcement authorities said Tuesday, warning that government facilities are full and agents are overwhelmed. “The system is well beyond capacity, and remains at the breaking point,” Kevin K. McAleenan, commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, told reporters in announcing a mass of new data.

Reports show a stark increase in asylum seekers at ports of entries. 2018 showed a 120% increase compared to 2017, and 2019 showed a 90% increase compared the previous year. From October to date, CBP reported 268 thousand apprehensions, which is a 97% increase from the previous fiscal year. October of 2018, the beginning of this fiscal year, marked the first time in history that Family Units exceeded single unit apprehensions and in February of this year, family units and unaccompanied children accounted for 65% of all Border Patrol apprehensions. McAleenan said the authorities believe this is a result of smugglers having effectively communicated, via word of mouth and social media, across Central America that adults who travel with children will be allowed to enter and stay in the United States. “Crossing with a child is a guarantee of a speedy release and an indefinite release into the United States,” Mr. McAleenan said.

Brian Hastings, the agency’s chief of law enforcement operations, said that since April 2018, border agents had detected nearly 2,400 cases in which migrants had falsely claimed to be related when they were not, or untruthfully claimed to be younger than 18.

70% of those apprehensions were migrants from the northern triangle; El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, a significant change in the dynamics of the migration: While Central American migrants once took weeks to journey through Mexico to the United States, many Guatemalan families are now boarding buses and reaching the southwest border in as little as four to seven days “on a very consistent basis,” Mr. McAleenan said. This marks the first time any other country exceeded Mexican Nationals apprehended by CBP. These numbers are significant because in the past the “healthy adult males from Mexico” could be quickly and more efficiently repatriated, whereas the more vulnerable family units and unaccompanied children from the northern triangle of Central America require fare more care and processing, and as per the requirements of our immigrations laws, are released into the United States pending adjudication of their immigration or asylum claims.

McAleenan declared sweeping changes to the agency’s procedures for guaranteeing adequate medical care for migrants — an overhaul brought on by the deaths of two migrant children in the agency’s custody in December. In light of both recent and on-going medical concerns accompanying large groups of migrants – witnessed daily – The Commissioner discussed new medical procedures, an interim medical directive towards enhanced medical efforts, and plans for a new central processing center, CPC, in El Paso. “Establishing a centralized processing center, CPC, in El Paso, will help protect the health and safety of those in custody while streamlining operations and reducing holding time”, proclaimed the commissioner. This means one location for processing families and children in an “appropriate” environment, better equip to facilitate medical assessments at the same time.

“While these efforts will help in maintaining the increase flow and while CBP will continue to do all we can to address the increase”, the commissioner continued, “the fact is these solutions are both temporary and unsustainable…remote locations on the US border are not safe places to cross nor to seek medical care”. The larger numbers and the surge into more remote areas of the border have drawn new attention to longstanding problems with medical services provided by Customs and Border Protection. Migrant families, in particular, tend to arrive in urgent need of medical attention, the agency said, which has strained resources and drawn agents away from their law enforcement duties. According to reports, groups being dropped of in remote locations are suffering from illnesses and sever medical conditions. CBP reports sending 55 people to receive medical attention per day and are on track to refer 31 thousand individuals to medical care this year, as opposed the 12 thousand reported last year. Since Dec. 22, 2018, CBP agents have spent 57 thousand hours on hospital watch, just under 5700 shifts equating to $2.2 million in CBP salaries. Between 2014 and 2018, CBP reports $98 million spent on medical services for individuals in CBP custody.

Chief Hastings elaborated on the CBP concerns for medical care by stating that each and every day CBP is putting “25-40% of its man power to the care, transportation and the humanitarian mission”. Though the CBP claims to be addressing humanitarian need, the current situation is unsustainable for CBP operations and the ports of entries that were built in the late 80’s and early 90’s for the purposes of tending to far different demographics.

More than 76,000 migrants crossed the border without authorization in February, more than double the levels from the same period last year and approaching the largest numbers seen in any February in the last 12d years.

“It should be very clear from these numbers”, stated the commissioner, that we are facing alarming trends in the rising volumes of people (illegally) crossing without documentation… this presents both a border security and humanitarian crisis…”

Commissioner McAleenan concluded in highlighting a point, which he believed to be the driving force of the current trends, “… a direct response from smugglers and migrants to the vulnerabilities and weaknesses of our legal system and immigration laws.” He explained, “Weaknesses in immigration laws and accumulated court rulings represent the most significant factors impacting border security causing humanitarian crisis”. Furthermore, he closed, “There are solutions to this crisis: we must continue to support governments in Central Mexico to improve economic opportunity, government and security – noting a $5.8 billion aid initiative by the US; work with the new administration in Mexico to address the trans-national criminal organizations that prey on vulnerable migrants and incentivize traffic; increase border security initiatives (including a modern border barrier system, additional agents, and new technology) and lastly, urge bi-partisan legislative action to address gaps in our legal framework.”