WASHINGTON – U.S. Customs and Border Protection Executive Assistant Commissioner, Office of Field Operations, Todd Owen addressed false claims today on a call with media that CBP is separating families seeking asylum at U.S. ports of entry as part of the zero tolerance policy. The zero tolerance policy did not change or affect operations at U.S. ports of entry.
It is rare for CBP to separate family units at ports of entry. If there is a separation, it is a result of exigent circumstances to ensure the wellbeing of the child.
CBP is not denying or discouraging travelers from seeking asylum or any other form of protection, or from claiming fear of return to their home country. When our ports of entry reach capacity, CBP officers’ ability to manage all of their missions — counter-narcotics, national security, facilitation of lawful trade — is challenged by the time and the space to process people that are arriving without documents, from time to time we have to manage the queues and address that processing based on that capacity.
To put the mission into perspective along the Southwest Border, CBP officers process approximately 532,000 people and 208,000 vehicles at the land ports of entry each day. San Ysidro is CBP’s largest border crossing with more than 100,000 people crossing every single day. Another 30,000 cross through the neighboring Otay Mesa Port of Entry.
CBP officers have direct responsibility for enhancing U.S. economic competitiveness by facilitating legitimate travel and trade, both of which have continued to grow year after year. Over the last five years, international travel has grown approximately 9.7 percent.
The lawful way to request asylum is to present yourself at the ports of entry. At the port of entry, a CBP officer will document your claim, take a sworn statement and then you will be turned over to ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO). ERO will hold you in detention until you can be presented before an asylum officer with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for the initial review of the asylum claim. CBP officers make no assessment to the merits of the asylum claim.
Individuals who attempt to illegally circumvent the inspection process at the ports of entry are subject to prosecution, which requires separation of the adult. This long-standing practice maintains the integrity of the legal process to enter the United States.
Attributable to EAC Todd Owen:
We have a complex and varied mission at our ports of entry: counterterrorism activities; narcotics interdiction; economic security mission; trade enforcement such as intellectual property rights; enforcing anti-dumping and countervailing duty, and unsafe products; and we also facilitate lawful trade and travel. We, of course, have our immigration process and responsibilities and we also have a large agricultural mission making sure no pests and harmful agriculture threats are entering the country. I think our CBP officers do a very good job of managing these important missions while facilitating asylum claims as quickly as they can. They continue to treat all individuals with dignity and respect.
While they’re in the port of entry, we keep the family units together as much as we can operationally. Family separation at the ports of entry is very rare, and it’s only done under exigent circumstances in order to protect the child and to ensure the wellbeing of the child. The factors that we focus on are:
- Parent or guardian presents a danger to the child;
- Parent has a criminal history including previous immigration offenses such as a prior removal;
- Parent has an outstanding criminal warrant;
- Enter without inspection;
- Parent has a communicable disease;
- Fraudulent claim of guardianship; and
- Smuggling narcotics at the time of entry.