Two former high-ranking immigration officials from the Obama administration, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and U.S. Border Patrol Chief Mark Morgan, proclaimed recently that, unlike the denial from leading congressional Democrats, including some 2020 presidential candidates, the Southwest border crisis is very real and very dangerous.
Morgan said that anyone who alleges that the border surge is “manufactured” is either “misinformed” or trying to “mislead” Americans. Johnson, for his part, said that during his term, he considered 1,000 daily border apprehensions “a bad number” that overwhelms the system. But last week’s apprehensions — about 4,000 — led Johnson to conclude that the U.S. is “truly in a crisis.”
Since the early days of his presidential campaign, President TrumpDonald TrumpTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Schumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe MORE has demanded money for the construction of a wall to thwart illegal entry. But President Trump’s supporters remain perplexed by his seeming indifference to more easily achieved and more economical solutions.
The surges in the numbers of Central American unaccompanied minors and family units have increased dramatically in recent years, as have asylum requests. More physical barriers will not deter the flows, especially now that is has become clear that poorly written immigration laws and the failure of political leaders in Washington, D.C., means that many migrants have easy access to the U.S. interior — even if they cross illegally. Total migrant arrivals are coming in such large numbers that neither the Border Patrol nor immigration courts can keep apace.
Currently, the Border Patrol reported more than 268,000 total apprehensions through fiscal 2019’s first five months, a 43 percent increase over the same period last year. More troubling, apprehensions of Family Units during fiscal 2019’s first five months have already exceeded the totals any of the prior six years. Little wonder that Johnson and Morgan are convinced that the border crisis is real.
Congress could initiate a series of legislative measures that would slow and eventually end future border crises. For one, Congress has for years been aware of, but refused to eliminate, the “credible fear” claim that has allowed many migrants to enter the U.S. and then disappear into the interior of the country, where officials often lose track of them. To restore credibility to the asylum system, Congress must first close the credible fear loophole.
Second, the detention centers that Immigration and Customs Enforcement maintains are full. ICE needs more beds. The last congressional spending bill provided fewer beds, which leaves catch and release as the agency’s only option, and it’s a bad one. It means — again — that aliens must be released into the general population.
Third, immigration courts are backlogged with cases, and have experienced a 300 percent increase over the last decade; we need to hire more judges.
Fourth, it’s time to revise the Flores Settlement Agreement that prevents the federal government from detaining minors for longer than 20 days, and amend the William Wilberforce Act that requires unaccompanied minors from noncontiguous Central American countries to be treated more generously than those from Mexico and Canada. Finally, pass mandatory E-Verify, which has languished in Congress for decades and would reduce the economic incentive to come to the U.S. illegally.
On April 2, Kevin McAleenan, who was then commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection and is now acting secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, was at the border in El Paso. He said the “breaking point” had arrived, and that the U.S. “is facing an unprecedented humanitarian and border security crisis all along our southwest border.”
This crisis shows no sign of abating. Confirmed reports indicate that another Central American caravan is forming and could reach 20,000. Unless Congress acts swiftly to address the underlying causes of the crisis, the flow of migrants will continue unbated, and local communities will continue to be overwhelmed with new arrivals for which they don’t have the resources to provide — and border crises will become the norm rather than the exception.
Eric Ruark is director of research at NumbersUSA, organization that seeks to reduce the rate of immigration into the United States. Follow NumbersUSA on Twitter at @NumbersUSA