EXCLUSIVE: Border Patrol Agents Blame Policy Reversals for Historic Surge in Illegal Crossings

Allowing foreigners to enter the US and be quickly released into the country is encouraging record numbers of illegal immigrants, officials contend.
EXCLUSIVE: Border Patrol Agents Blame Policy Reversals for Historic Surge in Illegal Crossings
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents detain a camouflaged family from Mexico after they had illegally crossed the U.S.–Mexico border near Naco, Ariz., on Nov. 4, 2022. (John Moore/Getty Images)
Mark Tapscott
12/7/2023
Updated:
12/10/2023
0:00

Nine Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents told congressional investigators that the lack of consequences for crossing the U.S. border illegally is to blame for the historic surge of illegal immigrants pouring into the United States, according to transcript excerpts obtained by The Epoch Times.

Investigators on the House Homeland Security and Oversight committees conducted the interviews earlier this year over the course of five months. The CBP interviewees included nine supervisory and line agents assigned to duty at key border stations from California to Texas.

Although both Democratic and Republican staffers took part in the questioning, the excerpts provided to The Epoch Times were selected by the Republicans. The Epoch Times has requested full transcripts of the interviews. Committee Democrats didn’t respond to a request for comment.

“We wanted to interview these agents due to their deep expertise as Border Patrol agents and the experience their senior positions afforded them to speak about operations in their sectors,” a Republican committee spokesman told The Epoch Times.

The agents weren’t questioned under oath and appeared voluntarily after being reminded that it’s illegal to provide false information to Congress.

At the heart of the issues described in the interviews is President Joe Biden’s reversal of immigration policies instituted by his predecessor, President Donald Trump. Republicans credit President Trump’s policies for reducing the flow of illegal immigrants.

One of the Trump policies was a requirement for people seeking to enter the United States to remain in Mexico, pending resolution of their cases. Another policy required strictly enforcing anti-drug and other criminal statutes against illegal immigrants. The Trump administration also began and made significant progress on building a border wall and induced Mexico to use its law enforcement and military resources to block migrant caravans at its southern border with Belize and Guatemala.

Migrants wait in the Rio Grande for an opening in the razor wire barrier to cross into the United States in Eagle Pass, Texas, on Sept. 25, 2023. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)
Migrants wait in the Rio Grande for an opening in the razor wire barrier to cross into the United States in Eagle Pass, Texas, on Sept. 25, 2023. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

In a July 26 interview, Tucson Sector Patrol Chief John Modlin told investigators that after President Biden took office, his Arizona border station experienced an unprecedented increase in illegal immigrants during the hottest months of the year, a time when the flow of such crossings would normally be at its lowest levels.

“[In] Tucson, because of the incredible amount of heat out there, the summer months tend to be very low. What’s happening now is unheard of, you know. I looked at 10 years of data to what the summer months should be, and, you know, so where we’re at now in July, you know, should be about—we should have about 17,000 apprehensions in July, you know, given 10 years of data aggregated. Instead, we’re at 26,000. So this time of year, the most dangerous time of year, is seeing one of the most significant flows that we’ve seen,” he said, according to the transcript.

When asked whether he was frustrated that the number of encounters had been increasing for a while, Mr. Modlin described staggering increases in the number of illegal immigrants coming into the United States at his station.

“Yes, absolutely. I think, when I look at 2018, 2019, and 2020, those years were about 60,000 people a year, more or less, within a thousand or two in either direction. And then 2021 happened ... and it jumped to 190,000. So it was three times the previous year, which was absolutely—for us—shocking in Tucson,” he said.

“And then, thinking it couldn’t go higher, it then went to 250,000 last year, and that did not include the 55,000 that we took from Yuma to help them out and the 170,000 ”got-a-ways“ recorded last year in that as well. And this year we’re on pace to probably hit 300,000. So if that’s the case, then we’ll be five times what we did just in 2020. So that is significant.”

Unprecedented Border Crossing Numbers

But the pre-COVID surges pale by comparison; he said temporary increases in border crossings were “certainly not unprecedented” but the recent volume is.

Almost all of the agents interviewed agreed that the lack of negative consequences for illegally entering the United States is a major—if not the No. 1—factor causing the swelling flood of crossings today.

“There needs to be a consequence to the illegal activity; otherwise it won’t stop,” Chief Patrol Agent Aaron Heitke of the San Diego Sector said in a May 9 interview. “And when you look at a population that’s coming, the only real consequence that we have is to send them back to their home country.”

He said the United States doesn’t have enough detention capacity to hold everybody.

“And even if there was, it would be short-term,” Mr. Heitke said. “Many of these folks come and have traveled for six months or a year to get here. A day or two in detention is not a penalty to them. They’re more willing to do that. Fines, obviously, are not going to be effective when the individuals have everything they own with them.

Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.) speaks during a House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 19, 2021. (Susan Walsh/Pool/Getty Images)
Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.) speaks during a House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 19, 2021. (Susan Walsh/Pool/Getty Images)

“The only real consequence we have is to send them back to their home country. And if somebody has traveled from wherever for an entire year and you fly them all the way back to their country, it’s a significant penalty.”

Another chief patrol agent, Jason Owens of the Del Rio (Texas) Sector, was asked in a May 5 interview whether “the likelihood of release into the United States after a short stay in custody would incentivize someone to try to illegally cross into the United States.”

“I think that if there is no consequence for an action, there’s no deterrence for a person to not commit that action,” he said.

Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.) told The Epoch Times: “These chief patrol agents’ testimonies make it clear consequences are essential to deterring illegal immigration, and when those disincentives are absent, historic numbers of people will enter our country unlawfully. That is exactly what has taken place at America’s borders for almost three years.”

Although President Biden is the ultimate policymaker for his administration, Mr. Green pointed to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas as most immediately accountable for the consequences of the policies.

“Under this secretary, illegal aliens know that after crossing the border, they will likely be released into the interior of the country to await their court date,“ Mr. Green said. ”Further, even if they fail to appear for their hearing, there is little to no risk of pursuit, detention, and removal due to Secretary Mayorkas’s restrictive policies limiting DHS’s ability to do its job. It should serve as no surprise to anyone that CBP has recorded more than 7.8 million encounters since February 2021, including more than 6.5 million at the Southwest border alone.

“The importance of consequences is basic common sense and a foundational aspect of law enforcement. Secretary Mayorkas either doesn’t understand this reality or he simply does not care. Either way, he is no longer fit for the office he holds and must be swiftly and decisively held accountable for his dereliction of duty.”

Impeachment

On Nov. 13, the House of Representatives referred the proposed Articles of Impeachment against Mr. Mayorkas to Mr. Green’s committee.

The committee spokesman told The Epoch Times: “The committee will take up those articles, and we look forward to the opportunity to educate even more Americans about how the secretary has intentionally and willfully opened America’s borders through his reckless decision-making and legally dubious actions. Congress should also take a serious look at using our power of the purse to compel Secretary Mayorkas and his lieutenants to enforce the law.”

A spokesman for Mr. Mayorkas, who asked to not be named, provided a detailed response to Mr. Green: “CBP is prioritizing smart border security solutions, making historic investments in technology, taking the fight to cartels and smugglers, and doing more with our regional partners than ever before.

“Individuals encountered at the border are screened and vetted, and those without a legal basis to stay are processed for removal. Consequences include a minimum five-year bar on re-entry, loss of eligibility to access lawful pathways, and prosecution for repeat offenders.

“[People] provisionally released from CBP are screened and vetted, remain in immigration removal proceedings, and have strict reporting requirements. Since the end of the [COVID] public health emergency on May 12, DHS has executed a comprehensive strategy that has led to record levels of removals under Title 8 authorities of individuals encountered at the border.”

The Biden administration has asked Congress to authorize hiring an additional 1,600 asylum officers and their support staff, as well as additional detention beds and more funding for deportation flights. The administration is also asking Congress to approve hiring 1,470 additional immigration lawyers and support staff.

Mark Tapscott is an award-winning investigative editor and reporter who covers Congress, national politics, and policy for The Epoch Times. Mark was admitted to the National Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Hall of Fame in 2006 and he was named Journalist of the Year by CPAC in 2008. He was a consulting editor on the Colorado Springs Gazette’s Pulitzer Prize-winning series “Other Than Honorable” in 2014.