Breaking News

Hundreds of agents will be pulled from ports of entry to help El Paso Border Patrol process undocumented immigrants

By Julián Aguilar

Hundreds of federal agents stationed at some of the country’s busiest international bridges and trade zones will be reassigned to help overwhelmed U.S. Border Patrol agents deal with the ongoing surge of undocumented immigrants here. 

The announcement was made Wednesday by Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan, who said during a news conference near the Rio Grande that the Border Patrol is on pace to apprehend about 100,000 migrants this month alone along the southwest border. The El Paso sector has seen a particularly large surge in undocumented immigrants, he said, and now has more than 13,400 migrants in custody.

“A crisis level is 6,000, 13,000 is unprecedented," McAleenan said.

“There will be impacts to traffic at the border, there will be a slowdown in the processing of trade, there will be wait times in our pedestrian and passenger vehicle lanes” at ports of entry, he said. “But this is required to help us manage this operational crisis.”

About 750 CBP officers will be reassigned. The CBP agents, who are normally tasked with processing legitimate trade and travel while detecting contraband, are currently stationed in El Paso, Laredo, Tucson and San Diego. Laredo and El Paso have for years ranked as the country’s top two inland ports; about $229 billion and $77.4 billion in two-way trade passed through those respective customs districts in 2018.

McAleenan said the vast majority of the apprehended migrants will be released instead of being transferred to and detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. That agency’s holding facilities are at capacity and McAleenan said he is left with no choice but to let the migrants go with orders to appear before an immigration judge. Border Patrol agents will now be tasked with deciding whether a person should be released, he said.

Currently as many as 40 percent of the El Paso sector's agents have been asked to help with transportation, processing or providing medical care to the migrants, which McAleenan said makes the border more vulnerable because those agents aren't patrolling.

“This is an unfortunate step and very challenging for our law enforcement professionals to digest,” he said.

The reassignment of CBP agents marks the second shift in personnel away from their primary duties in less than a week. Over the weekend, the Border Patrol shut down its roadside checkpoints within the El Paso sector so that agents assigned to those posts could instead help process migrants. It’s unclear how long either reassignment will last.

This article originally appeared at The Texas Tribune.