When the Senate takes up a measure to disapprove President Trump’s national emergency designation for the southern border, they will be doing so in the face of statistics that say otherwise.
This week, Customs and Border Protection released data showing 76,103 apprehensions at the southern border in the month of February, the highest number of apprehensions in a single month since April 2008, and a 97 percent increase since last year. More than 50,000 adults are currently in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody, the highest number ever.
Kevin McAleenan, the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection who also served in the Obama administration, told reporters this week that “the system is well beyond capacity, and remains at the breaking point.”
While previous immigration surges have been primarily single men, migrants are now increasingly crossing the border in family units. Of the 76,103 apprehensions in February, 40,325 were family units. The category is up a stunning 2,000 percent since the low of the “Trump effect” in April 2017 through February 2019. The changing nature of migrants at the border means that more and more of them are turning themselves into CBP and claiming asylum before being released into the interior of the country.
As the New York Times reported earlier this week:
“Families with children can be held in detention for no longer than 20 days, under a much-debated court ruling, and since there are a limited number of detention centers certified to hold families, the practical effect is that most families are released into the country to await their hearings in immigration court. The courts are so backlogged that it could take months or years for cases to be decided. Some people never show up for court at all.”
The role our asylum laws play in encouraging this type of behavior is close to indisputable. Our current immigration laws allow a person here illegally to claim they have a “credible fear” of being tortured or prosecuted if they return to their country. At that point, the immigrant cannot be deported until they are taken before an immigration judge, sometimes years later, for a hearing.
According to CBP, claims of credible fear increased by 121 percent in the last fiscal year. Under the Obama administration, claims of “credible fear” more than octupled from 5,523 cases in 2009, to 81,864 in 2016.
There are only a handful of reasons for this. Either the world became 16 times more dangerous, Citizenship and Immigration Services became more lenient in assessing “credible fear,” or migrants have become savvier in knowing what to say to meet the threshold.
The lure of our lax asylum laws and preferential treatment of family units is feeding into cases of fraud. As the New York Times reported last April, migrants “have admitted to posing falsely with children who are not their own, and Border Patrol officials say that instances of fraud are increasing.”
The numbers track with this. Since April 2018, border agents have detected nearly 2,400 “false families,” where migrants claimed to be related when they were not, or untruthfully claimed to be younger than 18. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told Congress her agency has uncovered “’recycling rings’ where innocent young people are used multiple times to help aliens fraudulently gain entry.”
Bizarrely, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ attempts to get a handle on the issue by tightening up the definition of “credible fear” were blocked by House Republicans in 2018.
By CBP’s own estimation, the border is in crisis. Members of Congress who claim otherwise are willfully ignoring the facts and testimony of the men and women standing on the front lines. Congress continues to fuss about executive overreach and the appropriateness of President Trump’s national emergency declaration while ignoring the central issue — our southern border is overwhelmed. When is Congress going to do something about it?
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