SAN ANTONIO (Border Report) — Two top border officials vowed their agencies would adjust without returning to the catch-and-release policy had the U.S. Supreme Court lifted the Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPP program.

Speaking to a standing-room-only audience made up of mostly border security officials to kick off the 14th annual Border Security Expo in downtown San Antonio, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Deputy Commissioner Robert Perez said MPP, commonly referred to as “Remain in Mexico,” has been “absolutely a critical piece to mitigate an unprecedented humanitarian crisis last year.”

The Supreme Court is allowing the Trump administration to continue enforcing the policy, which makes asylum-seekers wait in Mexico for U.S. court hearings, despite lower court rulings that the policy probably is illegal. The justices’ Wednesday order comes over a dissenting vote by Justice Sonia Sotomayor. It overturns a lower court order that would have blocked the policy, at least for people arriving at the border crossings in Arizona and California.

The high court also action comes a day before the lower court order was to have taken effect. Instead, MPP will stay in place while a lawsuit challenging it plays out in the courts.

“MPP has absolutely been instrumental in our ability to address the ongoing national security crisis on the Southwest border,” Perez said “… Regardless of where it goes we’re going to be prepared. We’ll be ready.”

U.S. Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott said, in response to a question from Border Report during the conference’s first panel discussion, that his agency has “alternative pathways” to MPP. He reiterated what Perez said about not allowing his agency to revert catch-and-release, which was used during the Obama administration.

“The only reason the border is how it is today, which is relatively calm again, is because of the pathways we put in place over the last year. We built other pathways, as well, so we have other options that we did not have a year or two ago if this goes the wrong way for us and we lose MPP completely. But we are prepared. “

We have other options that we did not have a year or two ago if this goes the wrong way for us and we lose MPP completely. But we are prepared. ”

U.S. Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott

Scott would not specify when asked if the Prompt Asylum Claim Review (PACR) or Humanitarian Asylum Review Process (HARP) — two new Trump policies that DHS officials say are now operational throughout the Southwest — could replace MPP. But he said catch-and-release would not be implemented at any cost.

“I won’t say what will replace it but those are other pathways we are currently using and we’ll leverage those pathways to make sure we do not reinstate catch and release,” Scott said.

Read a Border Report story explaining HARP and PACR.

Scott added that he has been instrumental in helping to deploy military troops along the Southwest border in anticipation of what many expect could be a surge of migrants wanting to cross over had the Supreme Court lifted MPP.

In El Paso, the military’s Crisis Response Force has arrived from Fort Polk, La., which is providing temporary military police, engineering and aviation support to U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the Paso del Norte port of entry.

Read a Border Report story on military troops arriving in El Paso.

“This last week I made the decision to redeploy or reposition special teams out of the military’s crisis-response team. We’re hardened the ports, we’ve shifted personnel in because I refuse to deal with — in any way shape or form — the chaos that we dealt with the rushes on the border when I was chief in San Diego.”

U.S. Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott finishes speaking on a panel discussion on Wednesday, March 11, 2020, at the Border Security Expo in San Antonio, Texas. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Scott is a 27-year agency veteran who headed Border Patrol in San Diego prior to ascending to the agency’s top position earlier this year. He said there are “soft-sided facilities” that could be used to hold migrants awaiting asylum hearings, but he would not say where, how many people these facilities could hold or for how long.

“We’re going to do everything we can to ensure that catch and release is not reinstated. And that’s the bottom line for every single pathway: Making sure they have due process, they get heard but they can’t exploit the system through catch and release. It’s not going to be pretty,” Scott said.

Visit the homepage for the latest exclusive stories and breaking news about issues along the United States-Mexico border.