Statement for the Record: “Stopping the Daily Border Caravan: Time to Build a Policy Wall”

Statement for the Record

U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security

Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security

Hearing on

“Stopping the Daily Border Caravan: Time to Build a Policy Wall”

May 22, 2018

The National Immigration Forum (the Forum) advocates for the value of immigrants and immigration to the nation. Founded in 1982, the Forum plays a leading role in the national debate about immigration, knitting together innovative alliances across diverse faith, law enforcement, veterans, and business constituencies in communities across the country. Coming together under the Forum’s leadership, these alliances develop and advocate for legislative and administrative policy positions. Through our policy expertise and work with diverse constituencies, the Forum works to uphold America’s long-standing tradition as a nation of immigrants and build public support for comprehensive immigration reform, sound border security policies, balanced enforcement of immigration laws, and ensuring that new Americans have the opportunities, skills and status to reach their full potential.

Introduction

The National Immigration Forum thanks the Subcommittee for the opportunity to provide its views on the matter of border security policies along the Southwest border. The Forum fully supports policies that promote safety and security along the border, as well as that facilitate trade, tourism and the economic health of the United States. We also thank the dedicated men and women of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) who work every day to keep our nation’s borders secure and facilitate commerce and travel into the U.S. We acknowledge and appreciate the complexity and importance of their mission, which is charged every day with overseeing customs, travel, immigration and border security responsibilities.

We know that creating a secure border takes more than just investing resources on one or a few components of CBP’s approach to border management. We also have concerns about altering U.S. laws to make it more difficult for migrants, mostly women and children, to receive asylum. We urge the members of the Subcommittee to address the ongoing need to invest in a comprehensive approach to ensure our nation’s security at the border and in policies that are humane, transparent, and encourage commerce. We also urge the Subcommittee to consider the impact these policies have on tens of millions of individuals, including Americans living along the Southwest border.

Congress should also fix our broken and out-of-date immigration system. Leading national security officials agree that having a 21st century immigration system that promotes safety and security, benefits American workers and our economy, and provides earned legalization for otherwise law-abiding undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. would have the most significant impact in promoting security at our borders.[1] We must choose policies that keep us safe, while staying true to our principles as a nation of immigrants. Congress can find a common-sense, humane solution that boosts security while protecting economic innovation.

The Southwest Border Has More Resources than Ever

America’s Southwest border has never been more secure. The U.S. has built nearly 700 miles of physical barriers along the Southwest border, with the rugged terrain and the Rio Grande acting as natural barriers in other areas.[2] To complement these physical barriers, the Border Patrol stationed 16,605 agents in the Southwest border in fiscal year (FY) 2017 – nearly double the number compared to FY 2000.[3] Between FY 2000 and FY 2017, Congress increased the Border Patrol’s budget approximately 380 percent from about $1 billion to nearly $3.8 billion.[4] At the same time, the average annual number of apprehensions made by each Border Patrol agent dropped from 191 in FY 2000 to 18 in FY 2017 – under 2 apprehensions per month.[5] The most recent data available shows each Border Patrol agent along the Southwest border apprehended on average about 2.3 migrants in April 2018, a small increase above FY 2017, but far below FY 2000 levels.[6]

Moving forward, Congress should carefully determine which uses of American taxpayer funds are most appropriate. We support building physical barriers along the Southwest border where the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), with the input of border security experts, local communities and border residents, determines it is appropriate. We also encourage Congress to invest on expanding the use of technology along the border, which CBP already relies on and often serves as a better force multiplier than a fence.

The Forum believes that investing in additional Border Patrol agents is not the most appropriate use of American taxpayer funds. Given the decline in the average number of apprehensions per Border Patrol agent over the last 15 years, as well as the agency’s struggle to hire an additional 1,933 agent positions with funds already obligated by Congress in FY 2017, the Forum believes that border security funding is best applied elsewhere. [7]

Congress should invest in the CBP Office of Field Operations (OFO), which oversees the flow of commerce and immigrants at all 328 ports of entry. CBP found in 2014 that adding a single CBP OFO officer to a port of entry would result in annual benefits of a $2 million increase in our country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), $640,000 saved in opportunity costs, and 33 jobs added to the economy, because it would help speed the flow of commerce.[8] Investments in CBP OFO also help curtail major drug traffickers, with CBP statistics showing that 81 percent of hard drugs caught along the border between FY 2012 and FY 2016 were caught at ports of entry.[9] Yet, OFO currently has a staffing shortage of at least 3,811 CBP OFO officers, representing a vulnerability in our country’s border security.[10] Investments to increase personnel levels at ports of entry would help better manage the flow of commerce and increase public safety, particularly amidst the opioid epidemic.

Another investment to ensure safety at our borders is to fund a federal program to eradicate the invasive and nonnative carrizo cane and salt cedar plants along the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. This effort would provide the Border Patrol with greater visibility and access to the Rio Grande.[11] Finally, we encourage Congress to invest in funds to implement the use of body-worn camera technology at CBP. The evidence indicates that body-worn cameras lead, in one study, to 88 percent fewer complaints against officers and fewer assaults, creating a win-win solution for the public and law enforcement.[12]  It is indisputable that the Southwest border has never had as many resources as it does today. The data suggest that it has never been more secure. We support continued investment in thoughtful and effective border security policies that increase safety and facilitate trade, while improving border management.

Border Crossings Are at Near-Record Low Levels

The number of apprehensions along the Southwest border between ports of entry has dropped from an all-time high of 1.6 million apprehensions in FY 2000 to fewer than 304,000 in FY 2017.[13] This reduction represents an 81 percent decrease and is the lowest number of apprehensions since FY 1971, more than forty years ago.[14] Between FY 2016 and FY 2017, border apprehensions fell about 25 percent, from nearly 409,000 apprehensions to less than 304,000.[15] The Trump administration lauded this reduction by stating it “undeniably prove[s] the effectiveness of President Trump’s commitment to securing our borders.”[16]

More recently, the Trump administration has cited the number of border apprehensions in April 2018 to justify the administration’s border security policies, including policies that will lead to separating parents from their children.[17] CBP notes that border apprehensions between and at ports of entry in April 2018 increased 223 percent compared to April 2017.[18] Yet, this figure obscures that the number of border apprehensions so far in FY 2018 remains on par with the number of apprehensions in the same period of FY 2017 and six percent below the same period of FY 2016.[19] In addition, the number of apprehensions in April 2018 is not unusually high, only five percent above April 2016 and 14 percent below April 2014.[20] Overall, the number of people attempting to enter the U.S. continues to trend downwards compared to the all-time high levels in the early 2000s.

Southwest Border Apprehensions [21]
Fiscal Year-to-Date Apprehensions April Apprehensions
FY 2018 288,066 April 2018 50,924
FY 2017 286,853 April 2017 15,766
FY 2016 306,578 April 2016 48,502
FY 2015 243,339 April 2015 38,296
FY 2014 311,312 April 2014 59,119
FY 2013 278,947 April 2013 54,761

 

Moreover, as the number of people crossing the border declines, the amount spent by the Border Patrol per apprehension at the border increases.  The Border Patrol spent on average $630 per apprehension in FY 2000, compared to $12,500 per apprehension in FY 2017 – an increase of almost 2,000 percent.[22]  As the overall trend of illicit crossings along the Southwest border goes down, we must invest in border security policies where the American taxpayer gets the best return, including border technology and CBP OFO officers.

Separating Parents from Children Is Deeply Troubling

The Trump administration’s decision to implement a new “zero-tolerance” policy to criminally prosecute all migrants crossing the Southwest border between ports of entry without authorization, including parents accompanied by their children, is deeply troubling and will lead to the separation of thousands of families. As a country, we should not separate parents and children – in some cases parents and infants – in an attempt to deter people who are fleeing violence from legally seeking asylum or working for a better life in the U.S. Such a policy is shortsighted, cruel to families, harmful to children and wholly contrary to American values.

Criticism about the Department of Justice’s policy comes from many corners, including those who promote the Christian value of family unity. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops noted that separating parents and children “would be extremely detrimental to basic child welfare principles” and “ineffective to the goals of deterrence and safety.”[23] Sam Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, stated that the practice could “inadvertently [incentivize] a family to break apart.”[24] Others, like Erick Erickson, conservative radio host and blogger, expressed concern about the “potential abuse of children separated from their parents” and urged the Trump administration to reconsider.[25] Conservative columnists Jennifer Rubin and Michael Gerson characterized the policy as “undo[ing] America’s reputation as a decent country” and a “betrayal of American values,” respectively.[26]

Experts from more than 200 national and state organizations involved in the fields of child welfare, juvenile justice and child health, development and safety pointed out that separating parents and children will compound the trauma many migrant children face and “the time it would take them to recover and return to a trajectory of good health and normal development.”[27] In one recent case, DHS separated a woman from her 7-year-old daughter for a period of four months before they were reunited.[28]

Once separated from their parents, the children will be treated as unaccompanied alien children (UACs), the same as if they had arrived in the U.S. without an adult. They will be placed in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and, after a time, placed with a sponsor while their cases are considered by immigration courts. HHS recently disclosed that ORR has lost track of nearly 1,500 children placed with sponsors in the U.S., increasing our concern that implementing a policy to separate parents and children will have dire consequences for the children.[29] ORR data also showed that more than 700 children have already been separated from adults claiming to be their parents since October 2017, including more than 100 children under the age of four.[30]

Finally, the threat of separating parents and children will not deter a parent whose children’s lives are at risk living every day in countries where gangs, drug cartels, and transnational criminal organizations prey upon families. The three neighboring Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador consistently rank among the most violent countries in the world.[31]  El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras still have the world’s highest murder rates and significantly higher homicide rates than neighboring Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama.[32] Separating parents and children is unlikely to deter them from making the journey to the U.S.

A policy that seeks to break up families is troubling and problematic both for the parents and children who will suffer great harm and the U.S. communities whose burden it will be to care for these displaced and broken children. Rather than pull families apart, we should aim to protect them. We should allow families to participate in existing alternatives to detention programs that are effective and less expensive that detaining them.

Asylum Seekers Are Not in Violation of U.S. Law

Migrants who reach the Southwest border and petition for asylum at a port of entry or between ports of entry are engaging in a process that is in accordance with U.S. laws and international treaties, primarily the Refugee Act of 1980 and the United Nations 1967 Protocol.[33] The U.S. has a legal obligation to provide protection to those who are unable or unwilling to return to their home country due to past persecution or a well-founded fear of being persecuted in the future “on account of race, religion, nationality, and/or membership in a particular social group or political opinion.”[34] The way we treat asylum seekers as a nation is proof that we can be a country of laws and grace. On the contrary, changing laws to make it more difficult for people to receive asylum would defy American values and extinguish a flame of hope for thousands of persecuted people, including women and children. We must allow asylum seekers fleeing violence and persecution to make their case under current law.

Grants of asylum in the U.S. are not easy to obtain. Asylum seekers who tell a CBP officer or agent along the Southwest border that they fear returning to their home country are referred for a credible fear interview and have the burden of proving that they have a “significant possibility” of establishing eligibility for asylum. If the asylum officer determines that the asylum seeker has a credible case, the asylum seeker is referred to an immigration court to prove their case before an immigration judge, who makes the final decision.[35] In FY 2016, an estimated 8,700 people were granted “defensive asylum” in the U.S., which governs the asylum process for migrants who arrived in the U.S. without authorization, including those who arrived as part of a caravan.[36] That same year, 101,000 people made defensive asylum claims in the U.S. – in effect, less than one in ten were granted asylum.[37] Under current law, America’s asylum process is a long-standing, legal and humanitarian effort that is difficult and includes numerous safeguards against fraud. It provides an opportunity for asylum seekers with valid claims to find safe haven in the U.S.

We must also recognize that Central American migrants traveling to the U.S. to request asylum are for the mostly women and children fleeing persecution and violence at home. The overwhelming majority of these migrants pose no danger to the American people. Although the journey north is very dangerous, the migrants see it as a better and safer option than staying countries where they face threats from local gangs and other groups. As a nation, we must respond to these humanitarian situations with compassion and common sense, not by closing the policy door on people with valid asylum claims.

Conclusion

The National Immigration Forum looks forward to working with the Subcommittee for the opportunity to provide its views on the matter of current immigration and border security policies along the Southwest border. We thank the Subcommittee for holding this hearing and considering policies to secure our borders while facilitating trade, tourism and the economic health of the U.S. We encourage the Subcommittee to recognize that the overall trend of border apprehensions along the Southwest border is going down, especially when compared to the all-time high number of apprehensions in FY 2000. We also note that separating parents and children is a troubling policy that will not serve as a deterrent and is contrary to American values, including the values of family unity and child protection. We also recognize that migrants traveling to the U.S. to request asylum are engaging in a process that is in accordance with U.S. laws.

Moving forward, we encourage Congress to focus on border security investments in areas where the American taxpayer gets the best return – such as increasing CBP OFO officers at ports of entry, not Border Patrol agents in areas where the average number of apprehensions has already fallen precipitously.

We urge Congress to override policies that encourage  the separation of parents and children, such as the administration’s recently announced “zero-tolerance” policy that will charge parents criminally.

Finally, we discourage Congress from making it more difficult for migrants to request asylum in accordance with existing U.S. law. Migrants with valid asylum claims should be able to make their case for protections that they are afforded under existing laws.

###

[1]Tom Ridge, former Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), stated, “I think [a comprehensive immigration approach] will add more to border security than any number of fences we can put across the border.” Chertoff, Michael, Janet Napolitano and Tom Ridge, “8th Anniversary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Roundtable,” interview by Andrea Mitchell, Georgetown University (March 2, 2011): https://www.dhs.gov/news/2011/03/02/8th-anniversary-roundtable-transcript.

[2] “U.S. Border Patrol Mileage of Pedestrian and Vehicle Fencing by State,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection (September 22, 2017): https://www.cbp.gov/document/stats/us-border-patrol-mileage-pedestrian-and-vehicle-fencing-state.

[3] “U.S. Border Patrol Fiscal Year Staffing Statistics (FY 1992 – FY 2017),” U.S. Customs and Border Protection (December 12, 2017): https://www.cbp.gov/document/stats/us-border-patrol-fiscal-year-staffing-statistics-fy-1992-fy-2017.

[4] “Enacted Border Patrol Program Budget by Fiscal Year,” U.S. Border Patrol (December 2017): https://www.cbp.gov/sites/default/files/assets/documents/2017-Dec/BP%20Budget%20History%201990-2017.pdf.

[5] During FYs 2000 and 2017, the Border Patrol apprehended an estimated 1.6 million migrants and 304,000 migrants crossing the Southwest border between ports of entry, respectively. The Border Patrol stationed 8,580 Border Patrol agents along the Southwest border in FY 2000 and 16,605 agents in FY 2017. We divide the number of apprehensions by the number of Border Patrol agents, which yields an average of 191 apprehensions per Border Patrol agent in FY 2000 and 18 apprehensions per Border Patrol agent in FY 2017. “Southwest border Sectors Total Illegal Alien Apprehensions by Fiscal Year,” U.S. Border Patrol (December 2017): https://www.cbp.gov/sites/default/files/assets/documents/2017-Dec/BP%20Southwest%20Border%20Sector%20Apps%20FY1960%20-%20FY2017.pdf; “U.S. Border Patrol Fiscal Year Staffing Statistics (FY 1992 – FY 2017),”supra note 3.

[6] During the month of April 2018, the Border Patrol apprehended 38,234 migrants crossing the Southwest border between ports of entry. Divided by the 16,605 Border Patrol agents stationed in the Southwest border in FY 2017, this yields an average of 2.3 apprehensions per Border Patrol agent in April 2018. “Southwest Border Migration FY 2018,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection (Last Updated May 3, 2018): https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/stats/sw-border-migration.

[7] The Border Patrol is mandated by Congress to maintain an active duty presence of 21,370 agents, but did not meet that staffing goal in FY 2017 due to recruiting and hiring difficulties. “U.S. Border Patrol Fiscal Year Staffing Statistics (FY 1992 – FY 2017),” supra note 3.

[8] “Resource Optimization at Ports of Entry: Fiscal Year 2014 Report to Congress,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection (March 10, 2014), 13: https://www.cbp.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Resource%20Optimization%20Model%20FY%202014%20Public%2004-24-14.pdf.

[9] Prendergast, Curt, “Most Hard Drugs Smuggled Through Legal Border Crossings,” Tucson.com – Arizona Daily Star (May 6, 2017): http://tucson.com/news/local/border/most-hard-drugs-smuggled-through-legal-border-crossings/article_46653d40-7f63-5102-bb38-38da58c06a76.html.

[10] “U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Workload Staffing Model,” Office of Inspector General, Department of Homeland Security (July 2014): 4 and 6, https://www.oig.dhs.gov/assets/Mgmt/2014/OIG_14-117_Jul14.pdf.

[11] Nixon, Dennis E., “Common Sense Border Security: Thoughts from Dennis E. Nixon,” (January 2017): https://www.ibc.com/en-us/Newsroom/Documents/Common%20Sense%20Border%20Security%20Solutions.pdf.

[12] Lopez, James, Jacinta S. Ma and Josh Breisblatt, “Body Cameras and CBP: Promoting Security, Transparency and Accountability at Our Nation’s Borders,” National Immigration Forum (November 6, 2015): 11 and 12. http://immigrationforum.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Body-Cameras-and-CBP-Report-11062015.pdf.

[13] “Southwest Border Sectors Total Illegal Alien Apprehensions by Fiscal Year,” supra note 5.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Kopan, Tal, “Trump Admin Grapples with Rise in Border Crossing Numbers it Once Touted,” CNN (January 10, 2018): https://www.cnn.com/2018/01/10/politics/border-crossings-up-trump-effect/index.html.

[17] Kopan, Tal, “DHS Secretary Defends Separating Families at the Border,” CNN (May 15, 2018): https://www.cnn.com/2018/05/15/politics/dhs-separating-families-secretary-nielsen-hearing/index.html; “Authorities and Resources Needed to Protect and Secure the United States,” U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs (May 15, 2018): https://www.hsgac.senate.gov/hearings/authorities-and-resources-needed-to-protect-and-secure-the-united-states.

[18] Calculations made by the National Immigration Forum. “Southwest Border Migration FY 2018,” supra note 6.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Calculations made by the National Immigration Forum. “Enacted Border Patrol Program Budget by Fiscal Year,” supra note 4; “Southwest Border Sectors Total Illegal Alien Apprehensions by Fiscal Year,” supra note 5.

[23] “Separating Families at the Border: A Costly Practice,” United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: https://justiceforimmigrants.org/what-we-are-working-on/immigrant-detention/separating-families-at-the-border-a-costly-practice/.

[24] Shellnutt, Kate, “Families Who Cross the Border Together Won’t Stay Together,” Christianity Today (May 11, 2018): https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2018/may/families-cross-border-separate-immigration-central-america.html.

[25] @EWErickson, “In theory I’m not opposed to strong deterrents to discourage illegal immigration. In practice, I am gravely concerned about the potential abuse of children separated from their parents and think the gov’t needs to rethink this,” Twitter (May 13, 2018): https://twitter.com/ewerickson/status/995706812769939457?s=11.

[26] @JRubinBlogger, “This admin plans to undo America’s reputation as a decent country. “When adults are prosecuted and jailed, their children will be separated from them,…The DHS says 700 children have been separated from their parents.” Twitter (May 8, 2018): https://twitter.com/JRubinBlogger/status/993829981192118273; Michael Gerson, “America’s President is the Bully of Children,” Washington Post (May 14, 2018):  https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/americas-president-is-the-bully-of-children/2018/05/14/178c941c-579c-11e8-8836-a4a123c359ab_story.html?utm_term=.69e9a923b6f2.

[27] “Urgent Appeal from Experts in Child welfare, Juvenile Justice and Child Development to Halt Any Plans to Separate Children from Parents at the Border,” Electronic Mail to U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kristjen M. Nielsen (January 23, 2018): https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/field_document/2018_01_23_child_welfare_juvenile_justice_opposition_to_parent_child_sep.pdf.

[28] Rosenberg, Mica, “Asylum Seeker in Detention Sues U.S. Administration Over Family Separation,” Reuters (February 26, 2018): https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-immigration-children/asylum-seeker-in-detention-sues-u-s-administration-over-family-separation-idUSKCN1GA279.

[29] Burke, Garance, “Federal Officials Lose Track of Nearly 1,500 Migrant Children,” PBS News Hours (April 26, 2018): https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/federal-officials-lose-track-of-nearly-1500-migrant-children.

[30] Dickerson, Caitlin, “Hundreds of Immigrant Children Have Been Taken From Parents at U.S. Border,” The New York Times (April 20, 2018): https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/20/us/immigrant-children-separation-ice.html.

[31] Gagne, David, “InSight Crime’s 2016 Homicide Round-up,” Insight Crime (January 16, 2017): https://www.insightcrime.org/news/analysis/insight-crime-2016-homicide-round-up/.

[32] Cara Labrador, Rocio and Danielle Renwick, “Central America’s Violent Northern Triangle,” Council on Foreign Relations (January 18, 2018): https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/central-americas-violent-northern-triangle.

[33] “Asylum in the United States,” American Immigration Council (May 14, 2018): https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/asylum-united-states.

[34] “Refugees & Asylum,” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (Last Updated November 12, 2015): https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/refugees-asylum.

[35] “Asylum in the United States,” supra note 34.

[36] “Table 16. Individuals Granted Asylum Affirmatively or Defensively: Fiscal Years 1990 to 2016,” 2016 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (Last Updated January 8, 2018): https://www.dhs.gov/immigration-statistics/yearbook/2016/table16.

[37] “Fiscal Year 2016 ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations Report,” U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 10: https://www.ice.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Report/2016/removal-stats-2016.pdf.

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