Almost 1 Million Border Arrests in Fiscal 2019, Says Border Commissioner
WASHINGTON—Almost 1 million illegal or inadmissible immigrants were apprehended by border agents along the southern border during fiscal 2019, according to Mark Morgan, acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
The number hasn’t been that high since fiscal 2007.
“These numbers are numbers that no immigration system in the world is designed to handle, including ours,” Morgan said during a press briefing at the White House on Oct. 8.
The volume peaked in May, with 144,000 people either crossing illegally or presenting themselves without legal paperwork at ports of entry. The largest group encountered consisted of 1,036 Central Americans who illegally crossed into El Paso on May 29.
Since May, the number of apprehensions has steadily decreased each month, and September marked the lowest number of law enforcement actions (52,000) during fiscal 2019.
“Just four short months ago, our daily apprehensions were close to 5,000. And today … it’s below 1,700,” Morgan said. “We went from over 19,000 people in custody, just four short months ago, to less than 4,000.”
Morgan said he’d like Border Patrol apprehensions to reach zero, but in reality, 500 per day would be manageable.
“We have essentially ended catch-and-release. If you come to our borders now with a child, it’s no longer an immediate passport into the interior of the United States,” Morgan said. “Instead, they will be afforded a lawful and expedited process, but they will not be released into the interior of the United States never to be heard from again.”
He said arrivals from families in fiscal 2019 more than tripled any previous fiscal year on record.
During the height of the border crisis, Border Patrol stations were so overwhelmed that some sectors were forced to release adults with children in as little as a few hours.
“Our Border Patrol facilities … were not designed to hold families or children. They were designed as police stations,” Morgan said. “The hundreds of thousands of families and children were told, coached, and made to believe if you make it to the United States border with a child, it was your passport into the interior United States.”
Several thousand fake families have been discovered by Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents since April. In one case, a Honduran man bought a baby in Guatemala for $80 so he could be released quickly as a family unit into the interior of the United States.
Morgan attributes the dramatic reduction in numbers to Mexico’s role in stemming the flow at both its southern and northern borders, as well as the “Remain in Mexico” policy for asylum seekers—also known as the Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP).
“MPP allowed for migrants illegally crossing, or at the [ports of entry] without documents, to be returned to Mexico to await expedited immigration proceedings in the United States,” Morgan said. “If they have meritorious claims, they receive relief in just a few months, rather than waiting in limbo in the United States, sometimes for years. And if they have unsuccessful claims, they are swiftly returned to their home country, or they can return voluntarily.”
Morgan said more than 51,000 people have been enrolled in MPP so far, which got off to a shaky start in January in Tijuana and has since expanded along the border.
Mexico has agreed to provide humanitarian protections and work authorizations to MPP individuals for the duration of their stay, Morgan said.
He said the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration is also in Mexico assisting with the MPP program.
“We’re now sending the message that, if you’re coming here as an economic migrant, you’re not going to be allowed into the United States. That’s driving a lot of people to return,” Morgan said.
Close to 90 percent of Central Americans who passed a credible fear screening at the border didn’t qualify for asylum in fiscal 2018, according to the Justice Department.
Morgan said the cooperation with Mexico, which now has 25,000 border troops, “is something really for the history books,” but that Central American countries are also stepping up.
He said the United States is helping those countries expand their asylum capabilities, as well as expediting the return of citizens who don’t qualify for asylum in the United States.
Long term, he said the United States will continue to work with Mexico and Central American nations to address drug smuggling organizations.
“We’re working with them on a daily basis to help them improve their ability to actually conduct operations within Mexico to go after the cartels and drug smuggling organizations and the gang members,” Morgan said.