McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Two controversial new immigration policies that expedite deportations of asylum-seekers, as well as a new rule that takes into consideration a migrant’s wealth when processing their claims, are vastly improving conditions on the Southwest border, the second-in-command of the Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday afternoon after he toured the South Texas border region.
DHS Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli said that the controversial policies PACR and HARP, which stand for Prompt Asylum Claim Review, and Humanitarian Asylum Review Process, “are fully operational and are being used across the Southwest border” as of the beginning of February. These policies were first started in El Paso in October and were implemented in South Texas in early February. But on Tuesday, Cuccinelli confirmed that Homeland Security agents are utilizing these methods throughout the border from San Diego to Brownsville, Texas.
On Monday, the administration implemented a new “public charge” rule that considers whether a migrant can economically sustain them self, or has had to accept public assistance, when assessing their migration claims.
It’s “some of the good progress we have made on the Southwest border,” Cuccinelli said in a news conference held in a noisy McAllen airport hangar used by U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Air & Marine Operations. “The U.S. continues to face an unprecedented humanitarian and security crisis here at the border. The Trump administration has been working tirelessly to address it and we’ve achieved some successes.”
Cuccinelli credited a drop in migrant apprehensions along the Southwest border to “historic agreements” the United States has with three key Central American countries — El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala — where migrants can be sent, “that reduce false claims and relieve stress on our immigration system.”
He said that new agreements are being worked out “and they will add countries,” although he failed to specify which countries.
Cuccinelli said the policies “are beneficial if someone isn’t fighting their case” because it allows them an expedited deportation to one of those three cooperating countries.
Mexico is doing more to solve the border crisis than Congress.”DHS Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli
He commended Mexico at length for “taking unprecedented action to address illegal immigration and shut down smuggling routes,” for stepping up enforcement along its southern border, and for accepting migrants who are returned to Mexico under the Migrant Protection Protocols program (MPP), including hundreds of Brazilian asylum seekers that crossed in El Paso.
“Mexico is doing more to solve the border crisis than Congress,” Cuccinelli said. “That’s not the way it should be, but that’s the way it is and Mexico deserves the credit.”
Nearly 3,000 migrants returned to Mexico under MPP live at a tent encampment in Matamoros, Mexico, across from Brownsville, Texas, while they await their U.S. asylum court hearings. The judicial process takes several months and some have waited since early August.
Over 60,000 migrants have been enrolled in MPP, which he called “robust and timely due-process.” This is the same number that his boss, Acting Homeland Secretary Chad Wolf, said when he visited the area in November.
Cuccinelli retraced many of Wolf’s steps on Tuesday, visiting the same segment of border wall under construction south of the town of Donna, Texas, assessing what he called has been “good progress.”
This section of wall costs about $26.5 million per mile and construction began in early November and has been slow-going, critics say.
Cuccinelli said the Donna wall and other wall plans in the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas were being “fast-tracked.”
“As the busiest sector in the nation, RGV is the highest priority for new border wall system construction,” Cuccinelli said.
This segment is part of 126 miles of new barrier that has been built on the Southwest border, he said. And it is part of 213 miles currently under construction and 414 miles that are in the “pre-construction phase.”
“This system is more than a wall and pairs a traditional barrier with modern technology, lighting, real-time surveillance. All these things help our agents be safer and more successful on the ground,” he said. “When walls go up illegal crossings go down.”
Ciccinelli’s visit followed just one day after the No. 2 at the Department of Defense, Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist, did the same as he also toured the 8-mile stretch of border wall being built near Donna. Norquist, who oversees all DOD finances, brought U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, a Texas Republican who is the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, saying they would assess border wall needs and costs and take the information back to leaders in Washington, D.C.
Deportation flights from South Texas
In response to a question by Border Report on the treatment of migrants during deportation flights, Cuccinelli deferred to Customs Enforcement Executive Associate Director Henry Lucero when asked whether migrants are shackled and chained for over half a day on these flights, or go without food. He said the policy is sound, but said he couldn’t speak “to the mechanics of it.”
Lucero confirmed that migrants are handcuffed and shackled for “3 to 4 hours” for most deportation flights.
Border Report has reported on these flights and has published video of shackled migrants hopping up steps to board charter flights at Brownsville South Padre International Airport recently.
Drop in apprehensions along the border
Cuccinelli said January marked the eighth month of declining migrant apprehensions along the Southwest border, which he said is a record since 1992. He said CBP apprehensions are the lowest in two years since February 2018, which he called “a great accomplishment.”
In January, the CBP reported a 75% decrease in border apprehensions from the height of the migrant surge last May, Cuccinelli said. And fewer unaccompanied migrant children “have had their lives put at risk making the dangerous journey to the United States,” as the CBP reported a 15% drop in children crossing the border in January from December 2019.
“Because of our efforts at home and abroad with our international partners, making the dangerous journey from Central America to illegally cross into the United States has never been less likely to succeed,” he said.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.
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