Statement of Commissioner Kevin McAleenan U.S. Customs and Border Protection Joint Press Conference with Northcom
Good afternoon and welcome. I also want to welcome Commanding General [Terrence J.] O’Shaughnessy of U.S. Northern Command.
I would like to update you on our efforts to prepare for enhanced security operations in order to address the potential for large groups of migrants to arrive at the U.S. border as part of a so-called caravan.
As of this afternoon, we continue to track a large group of approximately 3,500, traveling through southern Mexico with a stated intent to reach the U.S. border. This group is near the Chiapas/Oaxaca border in southern Mexico. We’re also aware of a second large group of migrants at the Ciudad Hidalgo border crossing between Guatemala and Mexico. Size estimates for the second group are around 3,000 as well.
To put these numbers in context, we are already facing a border security and a humanitarian crisis at our southwest border. Each day, on average for the last three weeks, CBP has encountered a combination of nearly 1,900 persons apprehended crossing our border illegally or presenting without documents at ports of entry. More than half of these arrivals have been made up of family units and unaccompanied children who have placed themselves in the hands of violent human smugglers, paying $7,000 per person to make the journey.
They’re incentivized to try to cross our border by the gaps in our legal framework and the expectation that they will be allowed to stay. This means that at any given moment, there are tens of thousands of intending migrants between the Guatemala border and the U.S. border moving towards us at any given time. Within that flow are about 17,000 criminals -- last year -- along with hardened smugglers and people from over 100 countries around the world.
Our immigration system is unable to effectively process and repatriate those without the right to remain in the United States, due to extensive backlogs in our courts and because of court restrictions on detaining people through their immigration proceedings.
What is new and challenging about this caravan phenomenon is the formation of multiple large groups, which presents unique safety and border security threats. For the two large groups that we are following, we have already seen the first one make unlawful entry across two international borders. A second group, still in Guatemala, has deployed violent and dangerous tactics against both Guatemalan and Mexican border security teams.
Accordingly, we are preparing for the contingency of a large group of arriving persons intending to enter the United States in the next several weeks. Our message to the organizers and participants of this caravan is simple. As the president and the Secretary Nielson have made clear, we will not allow a large group to enter the United States in an unsafe and unlawful manner.
For those that seek to cross the border illegally, we will apprehend them and fully enforce the laws of the United States. For those who seek to make an asylum claim safely and lawfully at a port of entry, the Government of Mexico has already offered you protection and employment authorization. If you are fleeing alleged persecution at home, you have arrived at a safe place to make your claim. If you are an economic migrant seeking to join family members in the United States, you should return home and apply for the appropriate visa.
While CBP and its DHS partners processed more than 38,000 inadmissible persons claiming fear of return to their home country safely and efficiently at our ports of entry last year, there is no benefit to being part of a large group. The caravan has already been offered protections in Mexico. You will not be allowed to enter the U.S. the same way.
I would like to note here that we very much appreciate the efforts of the Government of Mexico to address this challenging situation, in accordance with the highest principles of protection of human rights and respect for migrants while upholding the integrity of the Mexican border and Mexican immigration law. We also appreciate the continuing communication and efforts of our Central American partners, especially Guatemala, to address the challenges of these large groups.
In terms of our preparations at the border, yesterday we launched Operation Secure Line, a multi-phased and flexible operation response designed to ensure that we are prepared for any number of contingencies involved with the arrival and attempted crossing of a large group of intending migrants at our border. Whether they attempt to cross at a port of entry or unlawfully in between ports of entry, an important principle here is that border security is a law enforcement mission.
As the unified border security agency of the United States, CBP is well equipped, along with support from interagency federal, state and local partners to manage multiple contingencies of varying size. Since we initiated our planning two weeks ago, we have completed updated assessments at each of our 26 crossing points on the southwest border and we have already deployed 100 specially trained Special Response Team operators to prepare plans for each location.
As information on the approach of a large group at a port of entry becomes available, we have at the ready 1,000 CBP officers, including 250 tactical enforcement officers and mobile response team professionals with training on managing contingencies including riot control.
Between ports of entry we have an additional 830 Border Patrol agents on standby, ready to deploy, to include 140 special operations agents, 385 mobile response team agents, and an additional 350 agents from unaffected sectors. These agents will be augmented and supported by over two dozen CBP air assets for surveillance and mobile response including four Black Hawks, six additional helicopters, as well as multiple fixed-wing assets and unmanned aerial systems.
Due to the large size of the potential caravans that may arrive at the border, however, the Department of Homeland Security has further requested the support of the Department of Defense. This is in addition to the 2,000 National Guard personnel already augmenting operations under Operation Guardian Support in making an impact in border security supporting apprehensions and drug seizures since last year.
Specifically CBP has requested that DOD provide support in several key areas:
- Significant air and ground transportation and logistic support to move CBP personnel and equipment to locations of operational focus;
- Engineering capabilities and equipment to help ensure our ability to secure our legal crossings in key areas of the border;
- Medical support units;
- Mobile housing for sustaining CBP deployed personnel; and
- Extensive planning support.
I will turn it over to General O’Shaughnessy to detail DOD’s robust response to our request for support in just a moment. But let me close by saying that, regardless of the operational contingencies we face, along with our interagency partners and unprecedented support from DOD, CBP will ensure border security.
We will not allow a large group to enter the U.S. unlawfully.
We will maintain lawful trade and travel to the greatest extent possible.
We will act in accordance with the highest principles of law enforcement.
We will treat intending migrants humanely and professionally at all times, and the safety of CBP personnel, especially our law enforcement personnel on the front lines as well as the traveling public will remain paramount.