Resources exhausted, Border Patrol stresses changes to US immigration policies

A migrant family, recently released from custody, wait to board a bus to stay with relatives or friends in the United States at the McAllen Bus Terminal in McAllen on Wednesday, April 3, 2019. The migrants will then wait for their case to be called by an immigration judge. (Genaro Molina | Los Angeles Times via TNS)

McALLEN — Officials with U.S. Customs and Border Protection welcomed members of the media on Wednesday for a “pen and pad” tour of the central processing center here, also known as the Ursula center, to give insight into the situation that they described as a “policy crisis.”

On this day, there were more than 2,400 people in custody for a facility designed to hold just 1,500. Similarly, the facilities in the rest of the Rio Grande Valley were also overcapacity.

U.S. Border Patrol officials said they’ve had nearly two weeks of 1,000 or more apprehensions a day, and roughly 8,800 people apprehended last week in the RGV sector.

Also, Border Patrol officials confirmed that of the 750 CBP officers reassigned to deal with the increase in people being processed at detention facilities across the southwest border, 300 of them are now in the RGV sector. These are mostly officers from other locations in Texas, such as Del Rio and Laredo.

In addition to the help provided by the CBP officers and from a handful of National Guard troops, officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency were also scheduled to walk through the facility to develop a plan on how to help the overcrowded facility.

Officials also confirmed that they will begin erecting temporary shelters like they did in 2014 during the unaccompanied children influx; one such location being discussed is in Donna, where tents went up about five years ago. But there is no timetable for when a temporary shelter would go up.

Carmen Qualia, acting executive agent for Border Patrol, said policies need to change, including the 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Act — a law protecting human trafficking victims that includes provisions for unaccompanied migrant children. Qualia also said changes are needed to the Flores settlement agreement, which stipulates how long CBP can hold children and families, as well as changes to the credible fear process.

Ask for a solution, Border Patrol officials said policy changes are needed as opposed to increasing detention space, which would only incentivize asylum-seeking refugees and would do nothing to address the fact that officials only have 20 days to hold family units in custody.

The Trump administration has recently advocated for all of these policies that Qualia identified as requiring changes.

Last week, Trump threatened to close the U.S.-Mexico border if Mexico does not help stop the flow of asylum-seekers, a threat U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, did not take lightly.

“Since coming to Congress, I have voiced that the U.S. should work with our neighbors to the south to secure Mexico’s southern border,” Gonzalez said in a prepared statement. “Threatening Mexico with a full border closure is just another rash decision, reflective of the president’s obsession with partisan talking points and campaign rallies.

“Now, instead of listening to repeated concerns about the lack of immigration judges, the need to put resources in place before enacting policies, and simply thinking before you act, the brilliant solution of our ‘stable genius’ president is to impede cross-border trade.”

Trump also said over the weekend that he planned on cutting aid to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, the origin countries of the majority of asylum-seekers surrendering at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The administration notified Congress over the weekend that it will seek to stop payments to these countries established in 2017 and 2018, claiming the U.S. funding for the countries has done nothing to stop the spike in migration of its citizens to the states.

Gonzalez, who has in the past supported more aid for the Central American countries, said the president’s decision to cut funding was “politically tone deaf, and counterproductive.”

“… Border states and communities should not be forced to shoulder the burden of brash, misguided policy decisions,” Gonzalez stated. “The administration has a clear misunderstanding of the region and its socioeconomic conditions. This policy will ultimately fail if not abandoned — resulting in higher crime, fewer jobs and incentivizing more mass migration.

“I call on President Trump and Secretary Pompeo to rethink this approach and work with Congress on comprehensive solutions that address insecurity and economic opportunity, which are the ultimate root causes of mass migration.”

Border Patrol recorded 396,579 apprehensions at ports of entry on the southwest border in fiscal year 2018, which is still lower than the numbers seen between the 1980s and early 2000s, according to the agency’s website. For instance, Border Patrol apprehended 1,570,010 people in 1999, which is more than 75 percent than what was recorded in 2018.