DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas appeared before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee on Thursday to discuss unaccompanied migrant children. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) revealed a shocking fact at that hearing (one Mayorkas did not dispute): Border Patrol “conservatively estimates that over 40,000 people who crossed illegally got away and were not apprehended in April.”
In a May 3 post, my colleague Todd Bensman explained the “got away” phenomenon. They are unlawful border-crossers who are “directly or indirectly observed making an unlawful entry into the United States”, but who were not apprehended and did not return to Mexico.
These aren’t people who are seeking asylum (if they were, they would turn themselves in). Rather, as Portman put it: “We have no idea who these individuals are.” As saliently, the United States and DHS have no idea where they are from, where they are going, or what their intentions are.
And, to give you some perspective, the more than 40,000 got-aways last month are almost as many aliens as Border Patrol actually did apprehend at the Southwest border in the first three full months — February to April — of the Trump administration (February to April 2017, 42,076), combined.
How did those “over 40,000 people” manage to evade Border Patrol apprehension last month?
Well, it is a big border (1,954 miles) and, as I have mentioned in the past, there are only about 18,600 agents patrolling it. Even that does not tell the whole story.
The border is a 24/7 business and, although those agents work a busy 50 hours per week, that means that any individual agent is on the border less than 30 percent of the time.
That, in turn, means that there are only about 5,536 agents enforcing the law at that 1,954-mile border at any given time (an average of 2.83 agents per mile). Again, however, even that statistic is misleading.
More than 65,000 of the migrants apprehended at the Southwest border last month were either unaccompanied alien children or migrant children and adults travelling in “family units”.
Border Patrol can hold a group of single adult males together, but for obvious reasons, it cannot simply detain large numbers of unrelated adults and children en masse. They have to be separated into individual families (when possible) or by age and sex (when not) in Border Patrol stations and CBP processing facilities.
That takes time and, more specifically, Border Patrol agents’ time, and even that assessment still does not take into consideration the significant amount of time that agents must expend to care for and process those children and families.
To complicate matters further, as Sen. Portman noted, smugglers and traffickers send children and family units across to “divert Border Patrol agents” so that those smugglers and traffickers can move other migrants, drugs, and contraband across the border (Portman explained that, notwithstanding the large amount of drugs that are seized by CBP at the border, “most drugs get through”).
Multiple agents have to be sent to the scene when large numbers of aliens and, in particular, large numbers of families and unaccompanied children are encountered at the border. They are questioned initially upon apprehension, and then they have to be transported to stations and processing centers.
So, at any given time, just over 5,500 Border Patrol agents have to enforce the smuggling, trafficking, and narcotics laws of the United States along a 1,954-mile border, while at the same time apprehending, detaining, caring for, sorting, and processing some 5,782 migrants each day (the daily average of migrant apprehensions in April).
It is no wonder that “over 40,000” was a “conservative estimate” of the number of migrant “got-aways” in April.
It does not have to be this way. As I have explained previously, many, most, or all of those 65,000-plus migrants caught by Border Patrol last month who are unaccompanied alien children and in family units are coming here because U.S. laws and policies encourage them to come here and enter the United States illegally.
One of the big legal loopholes is the 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), under which unaccompanied children (who aren’t from Canada and Mexico) must be released to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services within 72 hours, almost all for placement with “sponsors” in the United States.
Most of those sponsors are here illegally and, according to Mayorkas, 90 percent of those children have a parent or legal guardian in the United States. Who do you think pays the smugglers and makes the arrangement for eight-year-olds to travel illegally from Central America?
Mayorkas deflected questions about those laws and policies, explaining that he looked at “immigration as a challenge that has been persistent”, as if it were inclement weather or a nagging backache. He contended simply that the administration was taking “immediate action” and was addressing the challenge with “increasing efficiency”.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) asked Mayorkas whether he was planning on doing something “dramatically different” to reduce the number of unaccompanied children entering illegally, because traffickers were exploiting the situation to funnel drugs into the United States.
Mayorkas responded that “the laws or our country provide certain procedures and certain rights for children who arrive unaccompanied and have claims for asylum”, specifically referencing the TVPRA.
That actually is not correct, because under the TVPRA, those “rights and procedures” are accorded those children whether they have asylum claims or don’t.
That said, Romney suggested Mayorkas should “propose a new law”. Mayorkas never responded to that suggestion, let alone proposing any changes, although President Obama called on Congress to change the TVPRA (in particular) almost seven years ago.
The laws and policies are a problem, and if Mayorkas does not know that, he is either misinformed or delusional.
That said, the Biden administration may be perfectly happy with those loopholes in the law. I seriously doubt, however, that anyone is happy about the massive amounts of drugs that those loopholes prevent the Border Patrol from apprehending, or the potential danger that “over 40,000” got-aways may pose to our national security.