The just-completed impeachment trial of former President Donald J. Trump in the U.S. Senate provided cover for the administration to move forward with plans to implement President Joe Biden’s open border policies.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced plans on Thursday to address the issue of migrants with active asylum claims, previously ordered to remain in Mexico under the “Migrant Protection Protocols” (MPP) program implemented during the Trump administration.
As part of the plan, an estimated 25,000 migrants believed to still be in Mexico under MPP will be allowed to enter through three designated sites across the southern border. According to U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar (D-TX), these sites will be in San Diego, El Paso, and Brownsville.
Daily, up to 300 migrants with active asylum cases pending action by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) will be allowed to enter at each designated site. The program kicks off next week. According to DHS, “This announcement should not be interpreted as an opening for people to migrate irregularly to the United States.”
While the U.S. Senate remained focused on a Presidential impeachment hearing, of a non-sitting President mind you, the security at our southern border was being dismantled step by step under this administration.
The trial did not result in a conviction. However, since its beginning, the trial dominated the national news cycle. The senate thus provided the “sleight-of-hand trick” needed to deflect focus of most national news media from the significance of recent border security policy changes.
DHS plans to address MPP seem simple enough at face value. They are, however, far from simple and the implications are wider than what is generally known about the process of ending it. The impact will severely affect an already stretched thin border security mechanism.
First, who will be responsible for the countless hours of administrative processing to admit and release the 300 migrants at each site per day? The answer to that question is mostly the U.S. Border Patrol.
Ports of entry must keep legitimate trade and travel flowing smoothly. According to CBP, over 6 billion dollars’ worth of imported goods entered the United States each day in 2020. The workforce that inspects and facilitates this trade will likely not be redirected to process asylum claims at the border.
USCIS is responsible for all legal immigration processes to include not only the asylum process but, on an average day, the adjudication of an estimated 30,000 applications for various immigration benefits. This leaves the Border Patrol holding the bag.
To meet the demands of this program, it is likely Border Patrol agents will bear the brunt of the administrative load of releasing MPP asylum applicants into the United States. Border Patrol agents from our nation’s northern border and surrounding southern Border Patrol sectors will likely be dispatched to meet the program goals. The processing procedures require an immigration officer with systems access and expertise to perform. Once in full swing, the odds of seeing more than a few Border Patrol agents patrolling the border will be slim.
Where exactly are the 25,000 migrants who have active cases under MPP? Many are not in the immediate border area. Sources report only 500 to 600 MPP migrants remain in a makeshift encampment in Matamoros, directly across from Brownsville, Texas. Many others have scattered across the city and some moved deeper into Mexico. A smaller number are said to have returned to their home country in Central America. This situation will probably cause a slow start to the program as DHS works the logistics to initiate the program in only a few short days.
Migrants who left the immediate border region will surely travel back to these three program areas — much to the benefit of human smugglers in Mexico. Cartels will not distinguish between the routine flow of migrants they normally extort and those traveling with pending asylum claims at the invitation of DHS.
Drug-smuggling cartels will also benefit from a reduced presence of Border Patrol agents on the border. The illegal drug trade will be a likely beneficiary of further reductions in enforcement activity by the Border Patrol.
The phrase “Catch and Release” will be replaced by “Alternatives to Detention” as the program unfolds. Both phrases mean the same thing, the latter is more “palatable” and “politically correct.” The cost of GPS ankle bracelets, most of which will be cut off and discarded during travel into the United States has proven problematic for ICE. In a visit to a detention facility during my Border Patrol career recently, the devices averaged from 300 to 800 dollars each. Many migrants would discard the device in a dumpster upon reaching their destination in the U.S.
As far as the program not being an “opening to irregular border traffic,” it is an announcement to the contrary. For tens of thousands of migrants who have been denied asylum, there could be a light at the end of the tunnel.
In one recent executive order signed by President Biden, the Secretary of DHS and the Attorney General must “evaluate whether the United States provides protection for those fleeing domestic or gang violence in a manner consistent with international standards”.
Current policy enacted under the previous administration removed domestic or gang violence from consideration on previous asylum claims. If this review results in the reversal of the current policy, an appeal will be likely for thousands whose asylum claims were denied based on fear related to domestic or gang violence. This would also give hope to thousands of others fleeing gang violence abroad. It will likely overwhelm an already stressed immigration system.
While all eyes were mostly focused on the impeachment trial of a former president, profound changes to our border security posture are largely going unnoticed.
Randy Clark is a 32-year veteran of the United States Border Patrol. Prior to his retirement, he served as the Division Chief for Law Enforcement Operations, directing operations for nine Border Patrol Stations within the Del Rio, Texas Sector.