EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — The migrant surge of the past year continues to wane, but federal officials are worried about an uptick in shipments of illegal narcotics through the Southwestern border.
Migrant apprehensions were down in the region for a fifth consecutive month in October, with 9,806 arrests made — a 31 percent decrease from October 2018 and a 73 percent drop from the year’s high in May, the U.S. Border Patrol reported today.
Fewer Central American families and unaccompanied minors are making it across the U.S.-Mexico border, something that Border Patrol officials attribute to Mexico deploying soldiers to stop migrants at the Guatemala border and to word filtering down in Central America that migrants no longer are being allowed to stay in the United States while their case plays out in federal immigration court.
“Since we have stopped releasing families on order of recognizance and applying consequence, we have seen a dramatic shift in the demographics of those we are apprehending,” said Brian Hastings, the Border Patrol’s acting chief of operations.
During the surge that started in October 2018, about 65 percent of the unauthorized migrants the Border Patrol came across along the U.S.-Mexico border were children or families. This past month, only 35 percent of those apprehended were family units or unaccompanied minors, and 65 percent were single adults. Further, Central Americans are no longer the bulk of those coming across; now it’s Mexicans, who traditionally have made up the majority of apprehensions.
“That is a huge demographic shift due to the new tools we have, as well as the work Mexico has done to assist in our border security,” Hastings said.
The most prominent tool is a policy that requires asylum seekers to wait for an outcome in Mexico — even if they’re not from Mexico. The Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program has helped empty overcrowded detention facilities and Border Patrol stations and allowed agents to return to patrol duty, after being reassigned to processing migrants, Department of Homeland Security officials have said.
“We had up to 40 to 60 percent of our manpower dedicated to the humanitarian mission during the high point of crisis in May and June. Today, that number is closer to 30 percent. That means we are able to put back more boots on the border, more agents doing the national security mission,” the Border Patrol official said.
However, he cautioned about illegal migration might pick up if policies are reversed.
“We have reported some very positive efforts in the form of applying consequences. I think that’s the biggest gain along with what Mexico is doing down south to assist us,” Hastings said. “But these are all short-term fixes to a long-term problem. We need a resolution to legal loopholes in asylum law. If some of the programs we have in place are challenged and we lose the ability to apply consequences, we may be right back in the same situation that we were in May.”
Drug seizures on the rise
On Wednesday, Department of Homeland Security officials warned a Senate committee that Mexican drug cartels were stepping up their involvement in fentanyl shipments to the United States.
On Thursday, Border Patrol seizure numbers appeared to back that up. Fentanyl seizures increased by 1,000 pounds from October of last year to September.
Last month, the Border Patrol reported increases of “hard” drugs, including 41 pounds of fentanyl, 2,476 pounds of methamphetamines, 656 pounds of cocaine and 86 pounds of heroin.
“We are seeing a troubling trend … even though we had 40 to 60 percent personnel pulled away from our primary border security mission, we still saw this massive increase in hard narcotics … we are seeing a dramatic increase in narcotics seizures in all categories,” Hastings said.
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