Immigration Newsmaker: A Conversation with CBP Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan

By CIS on December 17, 2019

Video and transcript are now available from Friday's Center for Immigration Studies Immigration Newsmaker conversation with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan. Mr. Morgan spoke with Jessica Vaughan, the Center's director of policy studies, emphasizing progress on the border wall, the ongoing crisis at the southwest border, the increase in migration from extra-continental countries, drug smuggling, the dangers of New York's new driver's license law, and work on an entry-exit tracking system.

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Highlights from Commissioner Morgan

Southwest Border Update

"[Cartels and human smuggling organizations] saw that we were making progress towards stemming the flow of illegal immigration from the Northern Triangle countries, really taking billions of dollars out of their pockets, and they shifted. So they're shifting towards supporting additional migration from extra-continental countries as well as Mexican nationals...Indians, Africans, Haitians, Brazilians, I mean, the list goes on and on and on...we're seeing thousands of each of those groups. And we're seeing – from this time last year we're seeing an increase sometimes 200, 300 percent of what we saw last year."

"The families from the Northern Triangle countries – and again, since May that's gone down 85 percent, overall the flow has gone down 70 percent – we're still at crisis numbers. We're still averaging between 1,400 and 1,500 daily."

"Congress has still failed to pass a single piece of meaningful legislation that would address this [immigration crisis]...It would take them 15 minutes, single piece of paper, and they could end probably 90, 95 percent of this immigration crisis that we're in. It would say three things. It would address the Flores Settlement Agreement... [allow us to send] unaccompanied minors from the Northern Triangle countries [to their home countries] and the credible fear standard...I'd probably throw in there give ICE some more bed space."

"Regardless of how great Mexico's stepping up and the Northern Triangle countries, at the end the United States, we cannot rely on other countries to fix our broken system... to have a durable, lasting solution to fixing our current legal framework, Congress has to act."

"What we're seeing now is an increase in the extra-continentals and we're seeing an increase in Mexican nationals, single adults and families, of which those initiatives right now with Mexico aren't being applied. But we're working with Mexico to expand that. We're also working with the government of Guatemala and Honduras on the ACA, the Asylum Cooperative Agreement, to also expand that so that they will also receive Mexican nationals as well."

"The ironic thing is right now we have other countries that are stepping up, seeing this as a regional crisis, addressing it as a regional crisis, and they're actually doing more to help us than our own Congress is."

"We just released funding back to the Northern Triangle countries, millions of dollars specifically designed to improve their asylum capacity as well as their interior enforcement ability to go after the cartels and the smuggling organizations."

National Security Crisis (Drugs, Cartels, and Gangs)

Last year, CBP apprehended:

"Over a thousand gang members... seized over 800,000 pounds of drugs. Think about that stat: 800,000 pounds. Air and Marine Branch, they contributed to, with other partners, another 300,000 pounds of drugs. The four hard narcotics – heroin, meth, fentanyl, cocaine – all those hard narcotics went up last year. Fentanyl, RGV alone – one sector out of nine sectors – seized 11 pounds. That's enough to kill 2 million people in the United States."

"Every town, city, and state in this country is a border town, city, and state, and because mark my words, if you have a meth overdose in Ohio, for example, mark my words, that meth came from the southwest border."

"When we talk about the crisis at the border, when we talk about the need for a wall as one tool, it's not just about stemming the flow of illegal immigration. It's about also stopping the drugs pouring into this country that killed 68,000 people last year."

"Why is there so much violence in Mexico? Why are the cartels warring with each other for control over the plaza, control over the smuggling routes? Because it's so profitable... it's a multibillion-dollar industry for them every single year. We estimate that the cartels, over $60 billion that they have."

A conservative estimate of cartel revenue from smuggling - $4 billion a year.

The Wall - Addressing some false narratives.

[A wall] is something that the experts have asked for. This is something that the Border Patrol agents and the leadership has asked for. This isn't something that the president asked for. This president asked the experts what they needed and he's delivering on what they have asked for."

"When you talk about the wall, it's not just a wall; it's a wall system. And it's not just a wall system; it's a part of a multilayer strategy of infrastructure, technology, and personnel. Everywhere along the southwest border where those three approaches have coalesced together effectively in a strategic location, it has absolutely made an impact both on the illegal flow of migration as well as drugs and bad people, every single place that that has been implemented. And we have the data and we can show that."

"I can say without hesitation, without doubt, every mile of new wall that's being built, this country is more safe because of it, because it absolutely increases the Border Patrol's operational capacity to be able to do what they need to do."

"... when I say I want the wall, it's not a political statement for me; it's from a law enforcement perspective. It's having the honor to be in this position and give the tools – the most effective tools – to the men and women of the Border Patrol..."

"This new funding that came [$1.375 billion] I'm absolutely confident not only are we going to, you know, get to somewhere between 4(00), 450 miles that are built, but I think we're actually going to exceed that. I think we're going to have more miles either under contract, being built, or ready to be built even exceeds the 450 by the end of 2020."

"Throughout the southwest border, all 2,000 miles, we estimated at least 150,000 [evaded our security at the border]. I think that's conservative. I think it's higher...a lot of people will say, well, those numbers are small. Well, how many is acceptable? How many? How many – how many rapists, how many murderers, how many pedophiles are acceptable? How many gang members? How many MS-13 members are acceptable for us to allow into this country? That's the question we should be asking. From my perspective, law enforcement for a lot of decades trying to safeguard this country, the answer is easy. It's zero. That's why we need to strengthen our borders. That's why we need the wall, along with other things."

Border Patrol Agents

"There were 4,900 rescues by Border Patrol agents and officers last year. So they saw somebody in need. They didn't stop to say, wait a minute, are you trying to illegally enter this country? No, they didn't ask that. They didn't ask, hey, what's your nationality? No, that didn't happen. What they saw is somebody, a human being, in need, and they immediately went into action..."

"Healthcare. We average between 70 to 80 hospital visits just along the southwest border every day."

Entry-Exit System

"We've expanded [biometric entry-exit] to 16 airports ...What I like to say we do is not facial recognition because recognition takes on a different kind of term. Really, what CBP is doing is facial comparison... And that's a very important distinction. So we actually have a database, right, a manifest where we have those photos, and we actually compare that one to one...sometimes when you look at facial recognition you're thinking some sort of surveillance program. That's not what we're doing."

"We have put millions and millions through this new biometric facial comparison process at a 98 to 99 percent accuracy rate."

"On the land side... in 2020 we're going to expand it to four areas on the southwest border."

New York's "Green Light Law"

"I can't have enough strong reaction. It's reckless. It's irresponsible. It's politics at its worst. I'm telling you – I'm telling the American people that this policy by New York will absolutely make this country less safe."

"Anytime you take a legitimate law enforcement tool away from a law enforcement entity, think about that: you're reducing their ability to safeguard this country every single time you're taking away a tool. That's exactly what this – has happened."

View previous interviews.