Yuma, Arizona - Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin K. McAleenan, Yuma Press Conference:
Chief Patrol Agent Anthony Porvaznik:
Well. Good morning. Well, thank you all and welcome. Thank you all for braving the Arizona summer heat to be out here with us today. We have a little bit of shade here.
I want to say that I'm honored to introduce the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, Kevin McAleenan. Secretary McAleenan was designated as the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security by President Trump on April 8th, 2019. Prior to his appointment, he served as Commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection after U.S. Senate confirmation in March of 2018 and after having served as the Acting Commissioner since January of 2017. Mr. Secretary, welcome to Yuma and San Luis, Arizona. Thank you for your continued support to CBP, the mission and the challenges we face here in Arizona.
Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin K. McAleenan:
Thanks, Chief. As we begin, I want to start with a few words on the recent shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. First, my heart and the Department's thoughts are with the grieving families from both incidents, but I want to talk for a moment about El Paso. The Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection are deeply embedded in the community of El Paso, a city with a unique and integrated culture, where two nations in two major cities meet. With over 4,000 DHS professionals and their families living there, protecting our border, facilitating the flow of lawful trade and travel that is a lifeblood of the region. This horrific act was an attack on our family and our community as well. A number of DHS families were directly affected as close family members were victims of the attack. CBP Port Director Donna Sifford was actually in the Walmart during the attack.
She survived uninjured and rendered lifesaving aide to another victim who turned out to be one of her neighbors. The fact that the absolute hate, hateful coward, as Donna called him, was motivated by a poisonous and destructive white supremacist extremist ideology that is underpinning multiple incidents globally over the past years, is an even deeper offense.
He said he sought to kill Hispanics. The majority of our El Paso team working to protect our nation, uphold the rule of law, and care for vulnerable migrants is Hispanic. These professionals are American patriots who work every day to protect what our nation of immigrants is really about. They protect all of us with heart and humanity. They're resilient, they're strong, and they will persevere. But this attack and this ideology offends all of us and we must address it with moral clarity. It is hate, it is domestic terrorism, and it must be fought together by Americans of all races, ethnicities, and faiths. And at the Department of Homeland Security, we have redoubled our efforts and recommitted all components of our department to do just that.
We are here today to provide an update on the ongoing security and humanitarian crisis here at our border. The situation is improving by every available metric, but, and I want to be very clear about this, we remain at and beyond crisis levels in illegal crossings, even as our initiatives to address irregular flows and mitigate humanitarian conditions are making an impact.
I'm pleased to be here today alongside two outstanding leaders. Chief Patrol Agent Porvaznik and Port Director Schwamm to announce U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s enforcement actions for the month of July, 2019. Just two months ago in May, CBP apprehended or encountered 144,266 migrants. That peak that you see that my left crossing our border illegally or arriving at ports of entry without documents. The highest monthly total in 13 years. In July, that number was 82,049 - a 43% decrease from May and a 20% decrease from our June numbers.
I want to emphasize that nearly 90% of those total enforcement actions were apprehensions from illegal entries crossing between ports. In July, CBP realized a 26% decline in total enforcement actions for individuals from the Northern Triangle of Central America, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. The most significant decline is noted in aliens from Guatemala, with a 41% decrease from June levels. In addition, individuals from Honduras declined 16% in June, El Salvador, 21% in June, and Mexico, 11%. In the same timeframe, from May to July, both unaccompanied children and family unit apprehension decreased by more than 50%, demonstrating the success of several recent initiatives by the Administration as well as its international partners to address this border security and migration crisis. This drop is not attributable to seasonal trends. Over the past five years, immigration flows have responded to pull factors, such as the perceived ability to stay in the U.S. due to weaknesses in U.S immigration law, not to historical, seasonal patterns driven by agricultural work. Over the last five years, the May to July decrease in crossings averaged 9% and went up or stayed relatively flat in some years. 43% is a dramatic downturn and is directly attributable to our international partnership efforts.
Thanks to the President's engagement with Mexico and Guatemala, along with several other Central American countries, we've begun to take shared responsibility with partners for the irregular migration flows that have become a regional crisis. We continue to see Mexico making a significant effort on their southern border between Chiapas and Guatemala, as well as on the transportation routes of human smugglers, and we need them to continue to sustain this. In addition, their efforts have helped reduce the phenomenon of large groups crossing our border, which was an acute challenge here in the Yuma sector. Our partnerships with the countries of the Northern Triangle, especially Guatemala, had been increasingly effective at stemming irregular migratory flows. We're making progress, but we need to continue to build on that success. These are regional issues that involve the sending, transit, and destination countries working together, and any of our solutions must involve those partners.
By aligning our migration policies and providing access to protection to those who need it, as close to home as possible, in concert with international nongovernmental organizations, this regional approach substantially limits the ability of coyotes or alien smuggling organizations to profit off the false promises and to exploit those individuals seeking to come to our border. This process limits the power and profits of criminals and creates a path to investment and further collaboration in the region. These reductions in flows combined with a $4.5 billion in emergency supplemental funding we requested on May 1st and received from Congress six weeks ago have allowed us to dramatically mitigate the challenging overflow conditions in our facilities.
Most critically, due to the ability of the Department of Health and Human Services to procure additional bed space for unaccompanied children, we've been able to eliminate long waits at border stations and reduce the number of children in custody at the border. From a peak crisis level of almost 2,700 unaccompanied children in border stations, with over 1,200 of them in custody for 72 hours or more, yesterday afternoon's report reflected 160 children in our custody at the border, with an average time in custody of under 24 hours. That means that due to the efforts to apply the increased funding that we saw for, that we asked for, and fought for, we are now able to process, medically screen, place, and transfer the 170 children arriving at our border each day in 22 hours on average. For families, we have reduced the total in custody from over 10,000 to approximately 2,000, at only 34 hours average time spent at the border. And for single adults, we reduced from over 8,000 to approximately 2,000, with average times in custody down by 75%.
We've also been able to provide better conditions for those in custody, applying the supplemental funding, including using temporary facilities with an increased capacity of 5,000 temporary beds since June 28th. Additional shower and laundry facilities, contracts to increase the number of variety of hot meals, and expanded medical screening and care.
While our efforts are working, the volume of migrants crossing our southern border remains at crisis levels. To address this crisis, we must continue to collaborate with our international partners and to seek the targeted fixes to our immigration laws that we've been asking for from Congress.
In closing, I want to thank the hardworking men and women of the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection who selflessly serve our country to protect our freedoms and way of life. Your work day in and day out, promotes the security of our communities and your lifesaving efforts to protect vulnerable people every day are absolutely incredible. We've asked a great deal of you this year, and you've stepped out. I want to thank you for that. I look forward to taking some of your questions.
So the question is “what is the plan for construction of wall on the border and what does that derive from?” So, CBP has developed a border security improvement plan that defines those priority areas of our border where we need additional border barrier and infrastructure. Yuma sector right here, and this is a new barrier behind me, a 30-foot new border wall that's helping provide security in the sector right adjacent to the Saint Luis II port of entry. These locations have been prioritized by our agents on the ground based on vulnerabilities in the border and the traffic that we're seeing in multiple sectors. We are applying the appropriated funding from Congress. We built the FY 17 funded wall, that's 40 miles. We're building now the 18 and 19 funded wall, and it’s going up in key priority areas that we do have available on our website and can provide in depth information. But I want to emphasize, this is based on where our border patrol agents on the ground said they needed additional capability to improve the security of our sectors along the border. Thank you.
Thank you. So first of all, we hold ourselves to the highest possible standard and any allegation of abuse or concern in our facilities is investigated. We have five levels of oversight for conditions in our stations, both internally within CBP and then in our independent Office of Professional Responsibility, the Department of Homeland Security IG, with our Office of Civil Rights and Liberties. And of course, with Congressional oversight and the [Government Accountability Office]. All of them have unfettered access to our facilities and have routine inspections. We're also overseen by court-ordered monitors, uh, from various core settlements over the decades. So it's a lot of access and a lot of oversight of our facilities. Any allegation that's raised, by policy must be immediately reported to an independent investigative agency and they're going to take that for action. Any allegations here in Yuma sector are going undergoing that process. I can't provide you specific investigation today, but I can assure you that it's being followed up by either our Office of Professional Responsibility or the Inspector General at DHS.
So that's that five layers of monitoring and oversight that we have every day. We have very clear policies on our responsibilities on how to care for people in our custody. Those are overseen day to day by supervisors trained in these policies. We briefed earlier a group of reporters on the systems that we operate to capture every encounter with a migrant who's in our custody when they're fed, when they have access to a shower, when they have their medicine administered to make sure that we're doing that very carefully, that we're capturing it and we're overseeing that effort. And again, we the multiple layers of oversight and access to ensure that we're following our own policies and that's done in a very rigorous basis all over the border. We had a really challenging situation here in April and May and early June. We were overcrowded at multiple facilities along the border, including Yuma sector. That was very difficult to manage. At this stage with the additional funding and a reduction in flows, we are able to really provide a much better situation in terms of caring custody for those here at the border.
So again, I'm not briefing on any specific cases. I'll tell you our policy nationally, if we have an identified agent or officer that was allegedly involved in an issue with someone in our custody, they are appropriately addressed and either taken off law enforcement duties, interacting with migrants, if we have a concern, or handled appropriately. That happens in every single case that is overseen, again, by independent investigative entities.
So ICE is doing interior enforcement operations on a routine basis, nationally. Any approach to address this migratory crisis, for instance, has to have balance between what happens in our partnerships in the region, our efforts here at the border, and what we do in terms of the interior. Work site enforcement is part of that. We can't have U.S. employers exploiting migrates, having them work in conditions that are unacceptable, and that are non-competitive with American workers. That's part of ICE’s responsibility. Enforcing the laws on the books every day.
So we are planning on expanding the Migrant Protection Protocols border-wide to key ports of entry. San Luis II and San Luis Rio Colorado is one location that we're looking at. Right now, we're partnering with the Government of Mexico to prepare for that eventuality. They've already increased their resources in their inmigración department here working at the border. And we're providing support to the Mexican government and through international organization so that they can be ready to provide appropriate shelter capacity.
I don't have a specific date on when MPP would open in this, in this area.
Yeah, I think I just did. We do intend to expand the Migrant Protection Protocols. And again, this is a process where people that might be seeking immigration benefits or asylum in the U.S. can access that court decision more quickly. Right now, if a family is released into the U.S., they can wait five years or more for that initial court hearing and they're not getting a decision on their asylum claim. Under the Migrant Protection Protocols, we're trying to establish that initial hearing within a few months of arrival and we're actually getting results. We had an asylum claim granted yesterday of somebody in the Migrant Protection Protocols who had gone through that process and in an expeditious manner in less than seven months since we started the program as opposed to the many years it takes when somebody is released into the U.S. to wait on the non-detained docket with the immigration courts overseen by the Department of Justice.
Sure. That's an important question. So the asylum process again is very lengthy, but taking a look at people who are completing their asylum claims from the 2014 arrival cohort of families. In 2017, what we're seeing is about a 10 to 15% ultimate grant rate of asylum by an immigration judge. So it's a very low pass rate, if you will, at the end of the process. And that's because asylum under international law is to protect people from political persecution to protect them from persecution based on race or religion or membership in a social group. It's not a pathway to an economic migration or to choose what country you want to live in. So when we actually finish the process with the immigration courts, which are overwhelmed, they have a 900,000 case backlog, there is a reduced number of people actually granted asylum and that's part of the problem is driving this crisis.
So yes, this recent raid was a criminal investigation of multiple businesses in Mississippi. ICE has strict policies that they go through for everyone that they've apprehended to determine if there is a childcare issue. Many are processed and released so that they can be returned to the site where they were apprehended to be linked up with a dependent who needs that care. Many of the folks being apprehended will be released pending an immigration proceeding, especially if they have a child care concern.
As ICE briefed yesterday, this was a year-long criminal investigation that they pursued based on a variety of sources.
One of the biggest challenges of this crisis is the belief in migrant families in Central America that they'll be released into the United States if they bring a child with them. And so what that drove and what we were very concerned about is the increasing posture of adults bringing children who are not their own to try to take advantage of the weaknesses in our immigration laws. We have over 5,000 instances where we've identified an adult who's not a parent or guardian, but purporting to be a family crossing the border.
In response, in April and May, we deployed Homeland Security Investigations personnel to the border. They have over 400 special agents working alongside our Border Patrol agents here at the border to try to determine those family relationships. And they're employing a variety of tactics, in-depth forensic interviews, as well as you noted, DNA testing. And what we're finding out is when a Border Patrol agent refers an adult and a child who they think may not or doesn't have the right relationship, and it could be a trafficking issue, human smuggling issue, in really egregious cases, the child has been used multiple times by different adults to try to cross the border and be released. They're being referred to HSI. HSI does that in-depth interview and they're determining about 15% of those cases are actually fraudulent presentation or fraudulent families. So what we're doing now is expanding the pilot. We've added DNA pilot here in Yuma, it started out in El Paso and then expanded to RGV. Now it's in Yuma. I want to get that worldwide so that we're protecting the children who are being exploited by this crisis.
Two different issues. So what I just talked about is actual presentation of fraud, pretending to be a parent or guardian to gain access to the United States to use the weaknesses of the immigration law. There are situations where people cross with family members under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. We have to treat them as unaccompanied. If they're crossing with someone who's not a parent or legal guardian, that's a different issue.