It is vitally important that Americans know exactly what is happening at the border. The argument over whether there is a crisis — either of sustainability, crime, drugs or humanitarian aid — must be founded on the facts. Further, discussion about border solutions and the urgency of implementing those solutions must be founded on the facts of the migrant situation.
1. As of March 31, 2019, 361,087 migrants have been apprehended between the ports of entry in 2019, representing a 108 percent increase over the same time in 2018.
2. In March alone, the Border Patrol averaged over 3,000 apprehensions each day. Historically, apprehension numbers climb during the summer months, meaning Border Patrol anticipates the number of apprehensions will only increase in the coming months.
3. There are three trends that make this migration flow a significant challenge for Customs and Border Patrol and the nation’s immigration system.
4. The first trend is that the majority of migrants arriving at the southwest border are members of family units.
5. In 2019 to date, the Border Patrol has seen more than a 374 percent increase in the number of family units apprehended, compared to the same period in 2018.
6. Family units and unaccompanied alien children combined make up more than 62 percent of all southwest border apprehensions. These populations are more vulnerable than single adults and require a more resource-intensive level of care.
7. This does not diminish the significance of single adult apprehensions. While the number of family units and UAC are increasing significantly, the flow of single adults has not stopped. In fact, it has increased as well. By the end of March 2019, the Border Patrol apprehended more than 135,000 single adults — the highest number in a fiscal year to date since 2014.
8. The second trend is the demographic makeup of this migration flow.
9. Eighty-three percent of all Border Patrol apprehensions along the southwest border are from the countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Unlike UAC from Mexico, federal law prevents the swift repatriation of UAC from Central America.
10. The third major trend is the increase in claims of a fear of return to a migrant’s country of origin. Between 2000 and 2013, less than one percent of those apprehended or encountered at our border claimed a fear of return.
11. In 2018, along the southwest border, just shy of 93,000 people claimed a fear of return while in CBP custody — a record number of claims. In 2019, CBP have almost reached that total in the first six months of the fiscal year alone.
12. The high number of claims, combined with the low initial threshold for credible fear, immigration court backlogs and the amount of time it takes to process cases creates lengthy stays in the United States while the claim is adjudicated. This facilitates abuse of the asylum system while delaying legitimate claimants in need of protection.
13. The Border Patrol is now apprehending larger and larger groups between ports of entry.
14. In the first six months of 2019, CBP encountered 111 large groups composed of 100 or more individuals, totaling 18,664 apprehensions. For comparison, the Border Patrol encountered 13 large groups in 2018 and only two large groups in 2017.
15. Human smugglers strategically choose the timing and location for these large group crossings in order to disrupt U.S. border security efforts, create a diversion for the smuggling of narcotics and allow single adults seeking to evade capture an opportunity to enter the United States. Even worse, many of these smugglers commit horrible acts of violence, sexual assault and extortion.
16. Since October 2018, CBP has seen an increase in migrants’ use of caravans to make the journey north towards the United States. DHS defines a migrant caravan as an autonomous group of 300 or more individuals organized in advance by non-state actors that travels in a coordinated manner, migrating from one country to another often times, though not exclusively, in violation of a given country’s national immigration laws and policies.
17. Apprehending a group of 100 to 400 people at one time creates significant operational challenges for CBP officers and agents who have to care for and process these individuals first before continuing their law enforcement mission.
18. CBP short-term holding facilities were neither designed for the large volume of family units nor for long-term custody. CBP considers 4,000 detainees to be a high number of migrants in custody, and in the past had considered 6,000 detainees a crisis. In this fiscal year, CBP has already experienced more than 14,000 detainees in custody on a single day.
19. Marijuana continues to account for the bulk of contraband drugs CBP seized by weight. However, that amount has been on a downward trajectory in the past few years. As CBP has observed a decline in the amounts of marijuana seized at POEs, interdictions of other drugs are holding steady or increasing. At the end of 2018, CBP saw increases in the amounts of methamphetamine and heroin seized, and compared to this time last year, cocaine seizures between the POEs are up 35 percent.
20. The rise in migration is, in part, a consequence of the gaps created by current laws, judicial rulings and policies related to the treatment of minors. However well-intentioned, they hinder CBP’s ability to fulfill its mission.
21. The 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement provides certain standards governing the treatment of all alien minors in U.S. Government custody. The Agreement requires the government to release alien minors from detention without unnecessary delay, or, if detention is required, to transfer them to non-secure, licensed programs “as expeditiously as possible.”
22. In 2014, in response to the surge of alien families crossing the border, DHS increased the number of family residential centers. Soon after, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California held that Flores applies not only to minors who arrive in the United States unaccompanied, but also to those children who arrive with their parents or legal guardians.
23. The court also ruled that ICE’s family residential centers are not licensed nor are they secure facilities.
24. As a consequence of the limitations on time-in-custody mandated by Flores and subsequent court decisions, custody arrangements for adults who arrive in this country alone are different from those for adult parents or legal guardians who arrive with their child or children.
25. There are similar treatment differences associated with the provision enacted in the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, Public Law 110-457, providing certain protections to UAC. Specifically, the TVPRA requires that, once a child from a noncontiguous country is determined to be a UAC, the child must be transferred to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement within 72 hours, absent exceptional circumstances.
26. If the UAC is a national or habitual resident of a contiguous country and is determined to be eligible to withdraw his or her application for admission (i.e., not a trafficking victim or likely trafficking victim, does not have a fear of return, and is able to make an independent decision), he or she can be repatriated to that contiguous country.
27. UAC from countries other than Canada and Mexico are not able to be repatriated in this manner pursuant to the TVPRA, which further encumbers the already overburdened immigration system. Currently, more than 80 percent of UAC encountered by Border Patrol are from the non-contiguous countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador; therefore, they are not eligible to be repatriated in an expeditious fashion.
28. The gaps created by layers of outdated laws and judicial rulings related to the treatment of minors are a significant pull factor for family units and UAC. Would-be border crossers know that, under America’s current system, adults with children will not generally be detained during their immigration proceedings. As word of mouth and social media spread news of their release into the United States, more migrants are emboldened to make the journey.
29. The installation of a modern barrier in key border areas has made a significant positive impact.
30. A two-mile stretch of border immediately west of the Calexico West Port of Entry in Border Patrol’s El Centro Sector in California, has been a consistent hot spot for illegal activity. The presence of local pedestrian and vehicle traffic from a shopping center just steps away from the border allowed illegal border crossers to quickly vanish into the community. Since construction of a border wall system — to include complimentary technologies — was completed, agents have been better able to prevent individuals from crossing illegally into the United States in this location.
31. CBP has dedicated every available resource to stop the flow of illegal migrants and dangerous drugs into the United States, including personnel, technology and innovating outreach and engagement with international and non-governmental industry partners. However, despite their efforts, CBP remains overwhelmed.
Editor’s Note: The facts listed above were curated from testimony submitted to Congress on May 8 by Todd Owen, Executive Assistant Commissioner, Office of Field Operations U.S. Customs and Border Protection; Carla L. Provost, Chief, U.S. Border Patrol U.S. Customs and Border Protection; Manuel Padilla, Director, Joint Task Force-West Department of Homeland Security. References to years are to fiscal years.
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