“I don’t have the correct adjective to describe what’s going on”
WASHINGTON—Today, the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability held a hearing titled “On The Front Lines of the Border Crisis: A Hearing with Chief Patrol Agents.” Chairman Comer and Committee Republicans outlined how President Biden and his administration’s policies created the worst border crisis in American history. U.S. Border Patrol Chiefs testified about a crisis that has set records for the arrests of illegal border crossers, migrant deaths, narcotics seized, and suspected terrorists arrested trying to illegally cross the border.
Last Congress, Democrats did not hold a single hearing on the humanitarian and national security crisis at the border. Today’s hearing was the first time the committee heard from U.S. Border Patrol agents during the Biden Administration about their ongoing efforts to secure the border.
The Biden Administration ignited the worst border crisis in American history and placed U.S. Border Patrol agents’ lives at risk by removing deterrent-focused immigration policies and border enforcement tools.
- Mr. John Modlin, Chief Patrol Agent for the Tucson Sector, emphasized that apprehensions at the southern border have dramatically increased under the Biden Administration. “In 2020, our total encounters were 66,000. That figure nearly tripled in 2021, and then quadrupled last year. We closed last year, 2022, with over 250,000 encounters in Tucson, Arizona. That is a 257% increase in just two years… agents responded to over 3,500 lost or distressed migrants who needed to be rescued or required emergency medical care. Many of these were difficult and dangerous mountain rescues, putting agents’ lives in danger.”
Drug cartels and human smuggling operations are exploiting chaos at the border to overwhelm Border Patrol agents’ resources, place migrants in peril, traffic deadly narcotics, and bring criminals into the United States.
- Ms. Gloria Chavez, Chief Patrol Agent for the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) sector, described how drug cartels are identifying vulnerable sections of the southern border. “Due to its proximity to the border of Southern Mexico and Central America, RGV is identified as a major corridor by cartels and transnational criminal organizations, and it is exploited daily for human smuggling, narcotics trafficking, and other illicit activities.”
- Mr. Modlin added that in his sector of Tucson, “Nearly all migrants we encounter are completely outfitted in camouflage by the smuggling organizations before they cross. Most run from and may fight our agents to avoid apprehension. Many are previously deported felons who know they are inadmissible to the United States. And many pose a serious threat to our communities.”
U.S. Border Patrol agents are doing their best to stem the flow of illegal immigration but continue to struggle to secure the border.
- Mr. Modlin said, “Task saturation is a term we use to describe a tactic where smuggling organizations split large groups of migrants into many smaller groups. These small groups are then directed to illegally cross the border all at once and at different locations, effectively saturating the area with migrants and exhausting our response capability.”
- Ms. Chavez said, “When I am out there with our agents, we focus on the mission… I think we need to have a balance between immigration and border security and get serious about that. We are there to secure that border. We care about the American people. Our border patrol agents work really hard every day to secure the border for the country.”
Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) emphasized that President Biden removed many of the deterrent-focused policies that were successful at reducing the flow of illegal border crossings. In addition, he stressed that cartel and smuggling operations are undermining border security efforts and placing Americans at risk.
Chairman Comer: “Chief Modlin, would you agree that the cartels currently exercise significant control over who is allowed to illegally cross in between the ports of entry?
Chief Modlin: “What I see in Tucson sector, my experience is that no one crosses the border in Tucson sector without going through the cartels.”
Chairman Comer: “Chief Modlin, are you concerned that the cartels are leveraging a chaotic situation to bring in criminals or suspected terrorists to evade apprehension entirely?”
Chief Modlin: “Sir, gotaways are incredibly important… As I described earlier, that process of task saturating does leave areas vulnerable and then allows people to cross that we’re aware of, in the case of a gotaway, but we just can’t get there to apprehend them. I think the other concern is the unknown amount of gotaways – the people that we don’t see.”
Chairman Comer: “It sounds like the cartels are taking advantage of historically high flow of illegal immigration to overwhelm border patrol agents’ resources, place migrants in peril, and undermine border security by introducing deadly narcotics, criminals, and terrorists into our country. It’s unfortunate then, that President Biden’s administration removed many of the deterrent policies that were working to reduce the flow of illegal border crossings and keep cartels in check. For two years, we’ve watched a crisis unfold with little Oversight. No longer.”
Representative Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.) noted the massive uptick in illegal immigration the day President Biden took office and eroded deterrent-focused policies. U.S. Border Patrol Chief Modlin even said that he lacks the ability to accurately describe the crisis.
Rep. Grothman: “Two years ago, in December, there were about 21,000 people who came across the border, both released family units and single adults, as well as gotaways. We have in two years gone from about 21,000 to 238,000 in the most recent December. Are those numbers accurate?”
Chief Modlin: “I can tell you that in fiscal year ‘18, ‘19, and ‘20, Tucson sector had about 60,000 apprehensions. In 2021, 190,000 apprehensions, so we tripled the previous year… Last year it quadrupled, last year it was 250,000. We’re 20,000 ahead right now so we went from what I would describe as unprecedented to a point where I don’t have the correct adjective to describe what’s going on.”
Representative Andy Biggs’s (R-Ariz.) questioning highlighted how groups of migrants are often apprehended in mountain ranges and hours away from border processing centers. It can take Border Patrol agents an entire shift to process the migrants and strains their already limited resources.
Representative Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) pointed out President Biden’s decision to terminate the construction of the U.S. border wall and stressed the importance of how barriers are an effective tool at stemming the flow of illegal immigration.
Representative Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) highlighted how Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas sought to block testimony from Chief Patrol Agents and hide the facts from the American people.
Representative Pat Fallon (R-Colo.) discussed the importance of the Migrant Protection Protocols and their effectiveness in managing capacity at U.S. border facilities.
Rep. Fallon: “Prior to the Biden Administration, Chiefs, are either of you aware of any month we ever had that was over 200,000?”
Chief Modlin: “I’m unaware, sir.”
Chief Chavez: “No sir.”
Rep. Fallon: “And yet the last ten months in a row have been over 200,000 illegal crossings. That is astonishing. It’s safe to say that what is going on in the southern border is tough, it’s trying, and it’s terrible. There’s a glaring difference between this administration and the past. One of the policies was the wait in Mexico policy, where we said your asylum case will be adjudicated while we wait in Mexico. Would you not agree Chief Chavez, that effective policy such as the migrant protection protocols are vital to deterring illegal immigration at the border?”
Chief Chavez: “During my time in El Paso we had the migrant protection protocols, and they were effective during the years that I was a chief in El Paso. It helped manage capacity at the facility.”
Representative Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) described how President Biden took immediate steps to gut interior enforcement against illegal immigrants and implemented a 100-day moratorium to study border security protocols.
Rep. Donalds: “There was somebody that became President of the United States in January of ‘21. In January 2021 this gentleman got rid of the migrant protection protocols, the MPP program, he stopped border wall funding, he actually gutted the interior enforcement against illegal aliens, he put a 100-day moratorium to study border security protocols. In your opinion, do you believe these policy changes actually led to the drastic increases in border encounters at the southern border?”
Chief Modlin: “The thing I can tell you that goes to the spike that you’re talking about is that in the Tucson sector interview people post-arrest, what became the most common response was that they believed when the administration changed, that the law changed and policy changed and there was an open border.”
Rep. Donalds: “Joe Biden decided not to follow the law.”
Representative Russell Fry (R-S.C.) highlighted how the Biden Administration’s policies are fueling fentanyl related deaths and illegal immigration. He noted that sectors of the border are still wide open and lack any sort of barrier.
Rep. Fry: “Here are some of the facts. Fact: Over 100,000 deaths associated with fentanyl just last year. Fact: Border crossings are at an all-time high. Fact: Millions of gotaways are in this country and those have been increasing more in the last two years than ever before. Fact: Only 14 percent of those seeking asylum are legitimate asylum seekers. That was under the Trump Administration and the Obama Administration. Fact: ICE arrests and removals have decreased according to one study by 90 percent from 2019 to the present day and fact, as you testified to, walls work.
Rep. Fry: “Are there areas of your sector that are currently unprotected by a border barrier that would be helpful to you and your agents?”
Chief Chavez: “Yes, Congressman. Locations in my area of responsibility that requires barrier are unprotected at this current time.”
Representative Anna Paulina Luna (R-Fla.) stressed that the Biden Administration does not want to acknowledge that their failed policies ignited the worst border crisis in American history. She also emphasized that many children are being caught by cartels and exploited for pornography and drug trafficking.
Rep. Luna: “It has been estimated that a shocking 60 percent of Latin American children who cross the border are caught by cartels and exploited for child pornography and drug trafficking which would be roughly 200,000 kids under this administration… I hear a lot of rhetoric saying that it was wrong for people to separate children but I as a Hispanic woman and a veteran think that it is the right thing to do to separate children until you can biologically confirm that they are not being handed over into the hands of traffickers. Chief Modlin, would you agree that you would rather have a child confirmed to be a known family member than to release them into the hands of a trafficker?”
Chief Modlin: “I would agree.”
Representative Lisa McClain (R-Mich.) detailed how terrorists are actively exploiting the Biden Administration’s failed immigration policies to slip through the cracks and into American communities.
Rep. McClain: “CBP has apprehended individuals on the terror watch list, correct?”
Chief Modlin: “Correct.”
READ MORE: The State of Our Border is in Crisis
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