Surge of mi­grant fam­i­lies sets bor­der record

Drug smug­glers use car­a­vans to di­vert at­ten­tion of U.S. au­thor­i­ties

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN

Il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion con­tin­ues to break records on the south­west­ern bor­der — and they’re not good ones.

The num­ber of fam­i­lies snared try­ing to sneak into the U.S. soared by 50 per­cent in one month alone, set­ting an all-time record with more than 36,000 fam­ily mem­bers ap­pre­hended, Home­land Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials an­nounced last week.

The gov­ern­ment has also en­coun­tered some 70 groups of at least 100 mi­grants dur­ing the first five months of the fis­cal year, shat­ter­ing records and plac­ing new chal­lenges on Bor­der Pa­trol agents.

The mini-car­a­vans are be­ing fun­neled to some of the re­motest parts of the bor­der, where there is lit­tle in the way of med­i­cal help and it takes hours to process and trans­port the groups. That takes agents off the line, and drug smug­glers use the dis­trac­tion to send across their ship­ments, top bor­der of­fi­cials said.

“We are fac­ing alarm­ing trends,” said Kevin K. McAleenan, com­mis­sioner of U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion.

He said the num­bers sig­nal the ex­is­tence of an im­mi­gra­tion and a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis, re­in­forc­ing Pres­i­dent Trump’s as­ser­tion of an emer­gency ne­ces­si­tat­ing his re­di­rect­ion of money to build a bor­der wall.

Over­all, Bor­der Pa­trol agents nabbed 66,450 il­le­gal im­mi­grants last month, mark­ing the worst Fe­bru­ary since 2008. Of those, 6,825 were un­ac­com­pa­nied alien chil­dren — ju­ve­niles who ar­rived at the bor­der with­out any parent. An­other 36,174 were fam­ily mem­bers — a ma­jor­ity of the to­tal and a record-shat­ter­ing num­ber.

The pre­vi­ous high was 27,507 fam­ily mem­bers in De­cem­ber. Be­fore fis­cal 2019, the gov­ern­ment had never topped 17,000 fam­ily mem­bers in any month on record. It has now done so in each of the past five months.

In ad­di­tion to the Bor­der Pa­trol, CBP of­fi­cers who man the ports of en­try en­coun­tered an­other 9,653 mi­grants who tried to en­ter with­out au­tho­riza­tion.

That is a slight drop from the past few months, and it sug­gests that il­le­gal im­mi­grants are de­fy­ing the gov­ern­ment’s goal of hav­ing them show up at ports of en­try to be pro­cessed.

An in­spec­tor gen­eral’s re­port last year said CBP of­fi­cers were throt­tling the pace of peo­ple al­lowed to show up and de­mand asy­lum at the ports of en­try, and some then at­tempted to sneak across the bor­der in­stead.

CBP of­fi­cials say it’s smug­glers who de­ter­mine where mi­grants en­ter.

In­deed, the for­ma­tion of mini-car­a­vans is a tactic used by smug­glers, of­fi­cials said. The same car­tels con­trol drugs and hu­man smug­gling, and they use mi­grants as a dis­trac­tion by send­ing a large group of peo­ple to oc­cupy agents’ at­ten­tion and then try to slip drugs into the U.S. in an­other lo­ca­tion.

“We have four spe­cific cases here re­cently that we’ve seen those fam­ily units used as a di­ver­sion­ary tactic,” said Brian Hast­ings, chief of law en­force­ment op­er­a­tions at the Bor­der Pa­trol.

Car­a­vans as large as 300 peo­ple are de­liv­ered to places such as Or­gan Pipe Cac­tus Na­tional Mon­u­ment, a beau­ti­ful but rugged lo­ca­tion in south­ern Ari­zona that is far from any sub­stan­tial in­fra­struc­ture or med­i­cal care.

In just five months of the cur­rent fis­cal year, agents have en­coun­tered 70 large groups, de­fined as those of 100 or more mi­grants. The pre­vi­ous year’s to­tal was 13 large groups.

All told, nearly 160,000 un­ac­com­pa­nied alien chil­dren and fam­ily mem­bers have been en­coun­tered at the bor­der over the past five months.

That is far more than the 120,000 en­coun­tered in 2014, when Pres­i­dent Obama first called it a cri­sis, said Sen. Ron John­son, Wis­con­sin Repub­li­can and chair­man of the Se­nate Home­land Se­cu­rity and Govern­men­tal Af­fairs Com­mit­tee.

“It was a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis in 2014, and it is a grow­ing cri­sis to­day. It is well past time to de­velop bi­par­ti­san so­lu­tions to se­cure our bor­der and fix our hor­ri­bly bro­ken im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem,” he said.

Mr. McAleenan sug­gested some op­tions, in­clud­ing in­vest­ing in Cen­tral Amer­ica, tar­get­ing the multi­bil­lion-dol­lar smug­gling or­ga­ni­za­tions that fun­nel the mi­grants north, con­struct­ing more bor­der wall and chang­ing laws to end in­cen­tives to mi­grate to the U.S.

At cur­rent rates, the Bor­der Pa­trol is on track to ar­rest more than 780,000 peo­ple try­ing to sneak across the south­west­ern bor­der, which would be the high­est to­tal since 2007 — be­fore the gov­ern­ment’s last wall-build­ing spree.

Of­fi­cials said the cur­rent num­bers show that a ma­jor­ity of the mi­grants are chil­dren and fam­i­lies from Cen­tral Amer­ica. Un­der U.S. pol­icy, they are much tougher to de­port.

That only in­vites more to make the jour­ney, said Chief Hast­ings.

“The word of mouth and so­cial me­dia quickly gets back to those in north­ern tri­an­gle coun­tries: If you bring a child, you’ll be suc­cess­ful,” Chief Hast­ings said.

The num­ber of peo­ple caught at the bor­der is gen­er­ally con­sid­ered a proxy for the to­tal flow of il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, so more ap­pre­hen­sions is be­lieved to mean more peo­ple are at­tempt­ing to cross.

How­ever, Mr. McAleenan ac­knowl­edged that the for­mula has changed in re­cent years based on the new de­mo­graph­ics of the mi­grants.

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