McAleenan Details the Scope of the Disaster at the Border

A very revealing phone call

By Andrew R. Arthur on June 1, 2019

Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney held a phone briefing on Thursday with members of the press. It revealed, in shocking detail, the scope and the effects of the disaster that is unfolding along the U.S.-Mexico border. Among the points therein:

  • "Over the past 21 days, an average of over 4,500 people have crossed our border illegally or arrived at ports of entry without documents. In May of 2017, that number was less than 700 a day. The month of May is on pace to be the highest month in crossings in over 12 years and will significantly surpass the record 109,000 in April."
  • "U.S. immigration authorities now have over 80,000 people in custody, a record level that is beyond sustainable capacity with current resources. Over 7,500 single adults are in custody at the border and Immigration and Customs Enforcement is holding over 50,000."
  • "Over 2,350 unaccompanied children – the highest level ever – are currently in custody waiting for days for placements in border stations that cannot provide appropriate conditions for them because Health and Human Services is out of bed space and Congress has failed to act on the administration's emergency supplemental request for more than four weeks."
  • A five- and a 10-month old drowned in a river transiting Mexico to the United States in the last few days.
  • More than 75,000 families have already transited through Mexico to the Southwest border this month alone.
  • More than 4,000 foreign nationals appeared at the border this year with children that they fraudulently claimed were their own, a number that is increasing.
  • "At any given moment, up to 100,000 migrants are transiting Mexico on their way to the U.S. border."

These are massive numbers, and require context. The flow of aliens twelve years ago consisted primarily of single adult Mexican males, who could be processed by the U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) quickly and returned to Mexico with little or no expense. The statistics above demonstrate that the current flow consists primarily of family units (FMUs), largely from Central America, who require significant humanitarian assistance and take almost ten times as long for USBP to process (for reasons I explained in a February 2019 post).

As a practical matter, the flow of aliens in May is effectively, if not numerically, the largest wave of illegal entrants across the border, ever. When even President Obama's Secretary of Homeland Security proclaims "We are truly in a crisis" at the border, we are.

The facts above also add more urgency to the points that I made in my last post, "Where Is the Anger Over Children Suffering at the Border?" The two infants who drowned making their way to the United States did not choose to come to this country; their parents brought them so they could enter this country illegally and get released.

This is clear from Secretary McAleenan's statements, in which he recounted the following: "As one man whose own children had migrated to the U.S. this year told me yesterday while was I was in Guatemala, 'A child is like a passport for migration.'" His assertion that "children are being put in danger daily as transnational criminal organizations smuggle unprecedented numbers of families and children across our borders" is self-evident.

And 4,000 adults falsely claiming children as their own at the border puts into context the "faux family" schemes my colleague Todd Bensman described in his post: "How the 'Faux Family' Scam Really Works; An Interview on the Front Line."

Secretary McAleenan made clear that it would be easier for the government of Mexico to prevent the entry of third-county foreign nationals who are transiting that country on the way to the United States than it is for the United States to prevent their subsequent entry into this country illegally:

Unlike the U.S. border, where crossings can occur in all four states and all along our 2,000-mile border from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico, this visible, predictable movement of migrants from Central America can be much more easily interdicted and occurs largely from . . . Guatemala into one Mexican border state along a 150-mile stretch of border with both natural and transportation chokepoints.

He also noted that this current, uncontrollable situation offers an opportunity for the government of Mexico to partner with the United States to enter into a third-country agreement on the processing of those foreign nationals for asylum before they ever get to this country.

By way of analysis, I would observe that such an agreement would be in the interests of both countries. America's interest bears no explanation.

Plainly, though, it is also in the interest of Mexico to limit the number of third-country nationals who are using that country to make their way to the United States. Not only do those migrants violate Mexico's sovereignty and destabilize its borders, they also enrich criminal elements within Mexico, including corrupt government officials, smugglers, and the drug cartels.

In its recently released 2018 Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Mexico, the Department of State describes the scope of corruption in Mexico:

There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

* * * *

The [Mexican National Human Rights Commission] reported that some police officers, particularly at the state and local level, were involved in kidnapping, extortion, and providing protection for, or acting directly on behalf of, organized crime and drug traffickers.

Mexico is taking steps to address corruption among its officials and officers. That effort is hindered, however, by the massive flow of migrants described above. Smugglers pay money to corrupt officials to look the other way as they move through that country. Cutting off that flow of money will remove the financial incentive that breeds such corruption.

Further, as the Brookings Institution found in March 2019: "Since 2000, Mexico has experienced extraordinarily high drug- and crime-related violence, with the murder rate in 2017 and again in 2018 breaking previous records." Much if not most of that crime is directly related to the cartels and their criminal activities. My colleague Dan Cadman has explained the links between these cartels and the smugglers:

[Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs)] involved in the cross-border contrabandista trade — whether humans, drugs, guns, or money — operate similarly to other criminal organizations around the world regardless of focus, because doing so makes good business sense. Thus, to suggest that cartels and other gangs functioning across borders, whose primary profit may be in the drug trade, are not actively overseeing and in control of alien smuggling operations defies logic. Such organizations can ill afford to permit any independent actor or actors to infringe on their territorial prerogatives without substantial jeopardy to their long-term operations as those actors gain money, power, and prestige. A freelancer who believes that he can long operate without paying for the privilege and owing obeisance to the controlling TCO is at risk of his life and wellbeing.

Those migrants are also drawing upon public services in Mexico, as municipalities must struggle to deal with these flows.

If Mexico were to enter into a safe third-country agreement, it would have to deal with few if any aliens seeking asylum, as the vast majority transiting the country end up not presenting valid asylum claims at all. Most simply want to enter and work in the United States, and if they cannot do that, they will not come.

Ultimately, however, the responsibility for stopping this disaster is with Congress, as McAleenan alluded to: "We've also asked Congress to close the gaps in our laws that incentivize this unlawful flow." Incentivize? "Precipitated" would be the more accurate term.

Congress has the power to provide the resources to handle the current flow, and to fix the loopholes that these aliens are exploiting to limit that flow in the future. Don't hold your breath waiting, however. Congressional Democrats appear to be quite comfortable with this wave and the tragedy that it brings with it, and congressional Republicans failed to act when it was apparent that this wave was building in the last Congress.

It is possible that the disaster at the border could get so bad that even Congress cannot ignore it anymore. I cannot begin to imagine, however, the scope of the disaster that would lead that to happen.