The Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general recently issued a report finding a need for improvement in the way Customs and Border Protection (CBP) plans for temporary and permanent detention facilities along the Southwest border.
The agency has improved its response to migrant surges by adding temporary facilities, but it has focused on short-term fixes, not long-term solutions. Moreover, CBP did not consider alternatives before turning to the addition of more temporary facilities.
The migrants in these surges have not gone through the screening processes required for immigrant and visitors visas, which increases the need for effective screening at the border processing centers.
The report concluded that CBP may not be prepared for future migrant surges or for a higher steady state of migrants in custody.
This is not a new problem. The rationale for the Title 42 order was to avoid holding migrants in the crowded CBP processing facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
New York City’s health commissioner, Dr. Ashwin Vasan, says the migrants without visas that the administration is releasing into the country are bringing other contagious diseases into the country now.
The processing centers are still crowded. In May 2023, Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) shared a video of migrants standing amid makeshift beds at the processing center he visited. It was handling about 6,000 migrants despite its maximum capacity of 1,000.
President Biden knew his border policies could cause an increase in the number of migrants seeking admission without visas. At a press conference a month before he started his presidency, he said he would not be able to roll back the previous administration’s restrictive border policies right away. “The last thing we need is to say we’re going to stop immediately […] and then end up with 2 million people on our border.”
Nevertheless, he reversed key policies of the previous administration a few hours after taking the oath of office. His reversals included ending the travel ban, ramping down the remain in Mexico program, and revoking an interior enforcement executive order.
The Border Patrol apprehended more than 1.6 million illegal border crossers in the first fiscal year of Biden’s presidency. This was the highest number of illegal crossings recorded along the Southwest border in any fiscal year since the government began tracking such entries.
Too little, too late
In February 2022, Homeland Security (DHS) issued the “Southwest Border Mass Irregular Migration Contingency Plan” for creating the infrastructure needed to process migrants quickly, safely and humanely at the Southwest border and in the interior.
CBP is working on an“Integrated SWB Mass Irregular Migration Contingency Plan”to implement the DHS plan, but it hasn’t finished it yet. The estimated completion date is March 29, 2024.
The contingency plan includes this summary:
“The immediate priorities of this Plan are to establish the methods for coordinating USG [United States Government] contingency response to humanely prevent and respond to irregular migration while limiting disruptions to legitimate trade and travel and ensuring protections for those migrants who are seeking relief or protection for which they may be eligible.
Working collectively in a Whole of Western Hemisphere approach, DHS, in conjunction with international and homeland security enterprise mission partners, will ensure the integrity of the SWB and set the foundation for future hemispheric migration reform.
The near-term goal is to create sustainable capacity and capability to process migrants quickly, safely, and humanely at the SWB and the interior. Long term priorities include addressing the root causes of migration by improving conditions across the SWB-IMZ through the development of sustainable capacity and capability.”
The Western Hemisphere approach is not new. Biden has been doing this since the beginning of his presidency.
The root causes approach is not new either. When Biden was Barack Obama’s vice president, he was the point-man for the administration’s $750 million Alliance for Prosperity, which addressed the root causes of migration from Central America by promoting prosperity, improving security and strengthening governance in that region.
The plan helped to reduce migration in the short term but failed to have a lasting impact on poor and corrupt governance. Nor did it transform economies or reduce violence enough to create the labor markets needed to create sustainable livelihoods.
Elephant in the room
The current situation isn’t going to improve until the number of migrants coming here without going through the visa application process is reduced to a manageable level, and that won’t happen while the administration is encouraging them to come.
I agree with Todd Bensman of the Center for Immigration Studies that whether migrants are willing to pay the fees smugglers charge to sneak them into the country depends on how likely it is that they will be able to get in and stay. And the likelihood of getting in and staying has been extraordinarily high during the Biden presidency.
His administration has released more than 2 million illegal border crossers into the country, and it has virtually eliminated deportability for just being in the United States unlawfully.
Moreover, the administration has been encouraging migrants without visas to come here by creating what it calls legal pathways, such as the humanitarian parole initiative and the CBP One mobile application program; and with its catch-and-release practice for those who are apprehended after making an illegal entry.
Realistically, asylum is their only path to permanent resident status, and our asylum system is overwhelmed already.
According to TRAC statistics, as of July 2023, the immigration court had received 1,077,916 new cases in fiscal 2023, and it only had closed 536,490 during that period. This increased the backlog to 2,503,251 cases.
And it isn’t likely that the administration will make it more difficult for migrants without visas to get in and stay in.
Nolan Rappaport was detailed to the House Judiciary Committee as an Executive Branch Immigration Law Expert for three years. He subsequently served as an immigration counsel for the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims for four years. Prior to working on the Judiciary Committee, he wrote decisions for the Board of Immigration Appeals for 20 years. Follow him at https://nolanrappaport.blogspot.com/.
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