Idea of ‘release, protect and reward’ luring more migrants to the border, acting head of CBP says

Border Crime

Rising rate of 'tender age' migrants or very young also crossing

A Border Patrol agent is seen apprehending women and young children in November 2019 in South Texas near Mission, Texas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report file photo)

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — With the Biden administration set to take over in five weeks, federal officials report a rising trend in the number of migrants, as well as many young migrants, trying to cross illegally the Southwest border from Central American countries, despite the ongoing pandemic.

In November, there was a 31% increase from the previous year in the apprehension of migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, the Central American countries known as the Northern Triangle, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan said during a media briefing Monday. There were a total of 21,714 apprehensions from those countries, up from just over 6,000 in July.

Graphic courtesy of CBP

In total, there were 67,101 apprehensions on the Southwest border in November, which is a 64% increase from the 42,643 arrested in between ports of entry in November 2019. However, that is slightly down from the 67,639 total apprehensions in October, according to the agency’s website.

Morgan said U.S. Border Patrol apprehensions of unaccompanied minors in October and November were “at the highest levels in the past 12 months,” with 4,792 and 4,592 respectively. Morgan said the numbers had “skyrocketed” from the previous fiscal year. In the past few weeks, he said, the numbers have jumped and now average about 150 per day.

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There also has been an increase in what Morgan calls a new trend in “tender age” unaccompanied minors, which are younger than the age of 12.

And unlike previous years when minors readily turned themselves into agents, Morgan says field officers are apprehending more who are alone and trying to evade arrest in the brush of South Texas, or mountains of Arizona or desolate areas of southern California.

Graphic courtesy CBP

“Unlike last year when minors turned themselves over to Border Patrol agents, human smugglers are now packing them into over-crowded stash houses, hiding them under the floors of tractor trailers, or piling them into makeshift rafts where they can easily capsize in the Rio Grande River all to avoid apprehension,” Morgan said.

He said as migrants more desperately try to evade arrest, they are being put in dangerous situations by human smugglers trying to profit from their illegal crossings.

He cited what he called the Nov. 18 “rescues” by Border Patrol agents of two siblings, a 6-year-old Honduran girl and her 2-year-old brother who were left alone on the river banks in the South Texas town of Roma. He said agents in San Diego found two dehydrated Mexican men in Otay Mountain, and over two dozen men, women and toddlers found stranded during a two-day period in in remote desert terrain in Arizona’s Tucson Sector.

Border Patrol agents lead a group of migrants on Nov. 20, 2019 near the banks of the Rio Grande, south of Mission, Texas. The group told Border Report they had been stranded and lost for days. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report file photo)

CBP Deputy Commissioner Robert Perez called it an “ongoing exploitation by these criminal elements of these incredible vulnerable populations,” saying it is a “disgusting scourge that represents on how these vulnerable populations are treated often times by these criminals as anything but people.”

Officials said that during this COVID-19 pandemic, apprehensions of migrants trying to enter the country illegally puts federal officers and communities at risk for the deadly virus. Currently, 11.6% of migrant children in custody by Health and Human Services under the Office of Refugee Resettlement have tested positive for coronavirus, Morgan said.

And he criticized a recent federal judge’s ruling prohibiting the expulsion of unaccompanied minors during this pandemic, saying these are “dangerous court rulings, which not only reinstates loopholes but creates new ones.”

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Morgan urged the incoming administration to adhere to current Trump administration immigration policies — the Migrant Protection Protocols program (or Remain in Mexico); third-country agreements; and the implementation of Title 42 border restrictions — which Morgan credits for keeping those out who do not meet the criteria for what he said are “legitimate” asylum claims.

“Any immigration strategy that comprises of release, protect and reward is not a strategy at all,” Morgan said, adding it is “luring migrants to the Southwest border.”

On Monday, Acting Homeland Secretary Chad Wolf announced that border restrictions would continue through Jan. 21, which is the end of this administration.

Morgan reiterated what U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar told Border Report last week, saying “cartels and human smugglers are fueling perceptions that our borders will once again be wide open and that will be reinstating the loopholes that have been closed.”

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Cuellar, vice chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, told Border Report he was briefed by DHS officials recently on the increase in pattern of unaccompanied migrant minors.

“We’re seeing a shift. And remember those shifts happen not by accident,” Cuellar said Friday. “There’s always a catalyst and the catalyst are the criminal organizations that control what moves, whether it’s drugs or people.”

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.

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