Now More than Ever, We Need a Border Czar

Let Homan do it, with no conditions

By Andrew R. Arthur on June 18, 2019

President Trump has made it apparent that he wants former U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Thomas Homan to be his "border czar". The latest reporting indicates that he has not accepted the position, but is open to discussions about it, provided that he's given the authority needed to do the job correctly. The president should give Homan the authority he seeks, because he is the right man to fill a desperately needed position.

As I detailed on June 11, 2019, the United States is facing an unprecedented humanitarian and national-security disaster at the border:

The Border Patrol apprehended 132,887 migrants attempting to enter illegally between the ports of entry on the Southwest border in May. Of that number, 84,542 (63.6 percent) were "family units", that is an adult or adults traveling with a child or children, usually purportedly their own. An additional 11,507 (8.6 percent) were unaccompanied alien children (UACs). "Only" 36,838 (27.7 percent) were single adults traveling by themselves.

These numbers explain the situation at the border that acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan described on a May 30, 2019, press call. Here the two most shocking takeaways from that call:

"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."

Only the most heartless legislator would fail to act now in the face of such facts. Nonetheless, Politico reported:

[House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi and her deputies have said the [supplemental] funding, which Trump asked for in May, will be strictly devoted to the humanitarian crisis. Still, the prospect of offering more cash to Trump's border security officials has roiled key factions of the caucus, particularly the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, for months. [Emphasis added.]

One would question why the prospect of suffering children would not overcome any such objections. But there you have it the state of politics in 2019.

The border is not the only immigration problem, however. Rather, the problem is bigger than one agency or even one department.

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) reports that through April 2019, there are 892,517 cases pending before our nation's just over 420 immigration judges, who sit in the Department of Justice (DOJ). In its recent overstay report, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) indicated that the total overstay rate for nonimmigrants in FY 2018 was 1.22 percent, suggesting that U.S. Department of State (DOS) consular officers are granting nonimmigrant visas to foreign nationals who should not receive them.

And then, of course, there is the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which has jurisdiction over unaccompanied alien children (UACs). As noted above, they are out of bed space, which is hardly their only issue. As I reported in April 29, 2019, post, more than three-quarters of the sponsors to whom the UACs have been released recently in the United States are in unlawful status. Illegal-alien parents and guardians are paying to have those UACs brought to the United States with no ramifications whatsoever, the children suffer, and the taxpayers foot the bill.

Finally, the Department of Defense (DOD) could be playing a larger role than it is to address the issues at the border. A department that has the ability to set up military bases on the other side of the world in extremely tight time frames also has the ability to erect humane, comfortable processing facilities to alleviate the burden on CBP. The question is why they haven't done so thus far.

Which is not to say that DHS itself does not have its own, deep-seated, coordination issues. In the Homeland Security Act of 2002, the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS, which had been in DOJ) was split into separate agencies, one for the granting of immigration benefits, and the other for immigration enforcement. For reasons that have never been clear, the immigration enforcement function was then administratively split between border enforcement (U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)), and interior enforcement (ICE), each of which was matched up with its then-U.S. Customs counterpart. "Mission creep" is the D.C. term used for a scenario in which an agency takes on multiple, disparate functions, and is not performing any of them adequately. Plainly, this was likely to be an issue from the beginning, and it has been.

At the former INS, there was coordination at the deputy attorney general's office on immigration strategy within DOJ, however not adjudications in individual cases. That has been lost in the current structure, and the accountability they came with it has been lost as well.

Coordinating immigration strategy across five different departments (DOJ, DHS, DOS, HHS, and DOD) at a minimum is critical to addressing the immigration issues facing the United States today. White House coordination is only so effective, however, given the small number of White House staff and the large number of topics with which they must deal.

For that reason, a "border czar" with the authority to address policy issues and make changes across departments and agencies is absolutely essential. Tom Homan understands this, as both his years of immigration experience and public statements on the concept of a border czar have demonstrated. He's been a Border Patrol agent, and worked his way up the ICE hierarchy under both political parties before becoming acting director in the Trump administration. He gets both the big picture and the small one as relates the immigration issues facing our country. Most importantly, he has the ability to cut through bureaucracy, and has little patience for an ineffective status quo.

It is tough to tell which is bigger: a federal government bureaucracy that has been bloated by three decades of unprecedented growth, or a border disaster in which thousands of aliens enter illegally daily, the majority of whom are adults bringing children to game our lax immigration laws. Unfortunately, you go to war with the army you have and, in this case, we have to address the disaster with the bureaucracy in place.

That is why the president should name Homan border czar on any terms that he demands. Every agency head, every component director, and every reluctant Pentagon official must know that Tom Homan, border czar, speaks for the president and the president alone.

If there are any other conditions placed on the border czar, the position will simply be window-dressing. We need a plain-talking, no-nonsense expert to do the job. Fortunately, we have one.