High-ranking officials within the Customs and Border Protection agency are expressing their concern over the growing immigration crisis, according to a new report from NPR.
CBP Commissioner Kevin McAlaneen was blunt in a statement Wednesday from El Paso, Texas.
“The breaking point has arrived. CBP is facing an unprecedented humanitarian and border security crisis all along our Southwest Border — and nowhere has that crisis manifested more acutely than here in El Paso.”
Federal agents patrolling the border apprehended over 4,000 migrants on two separate days this week, the highest daily totals in over 15 years, per a CBP source cited by NPR. Agents are also currently on track to apprehend over 100,000 migrants in the month of March. If the pace holds, that would be the highest monthly total in more than a decade.
McAlaneen stressed that the large influx is due mainly to families and children fleeing violence in Central America. The high percentage of those families, he said, is testing the limits of many border patrol facilities, which were designed mostly to apprehend single men. He noted that many stations are already far over their official holding capacity.
His tone was especially bleak when looking toward the future. “We are doing everything we can to simply avoid a tragedy. But with these numbers, with the types of illnesses we’re seeing at the border, I fear that it’s just a matter of time.”
This is El Paso right now, where hundreds of migrant families are being held in the parking lot of a Border Patrol station because there is no room for them inside, or anywhere else. pic.twitter.com/lFGZ9zRcZk
— Nick Miroff (@NickMiroff) March 27, 2019
An especially tough part of the situation is the constant battle between ensuring higher standards of medical care (two children died in CBP custody last December) and keeping enough agents on their standard security duties. “Our expanded medical checks and concerted efforts are saving lives,” McAleenan said. “But they have a high cost to our enforcement mission.”
McAlaneen stated that CBP is redirecting 750 customs officials currently working at ports of entry to help alleviate the pressure in the short term. The CBP will also begin releasing apprehended migrant families with a notice to appear in court, rather than handing them over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for processing and eventual detention (as has been standard procedure).
McAlaneen called the influx of families a “direct response” to the procedure change, stating that migrant families know they will be allowed to stay in the United States while awaiting legal proceedings if apprehended — a timeframe that can extend to years in many cases. However, the fact that many of these families are seeking asylum from violence in their home countries significantly complicates the situation. Even if apprehended illegally, migrants have a legal right to remain in the country while their asylum claims are processed.