WASHINGTON — Mark Morgan, acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement says there’s a “crisis” unfolding at the border — and Congress must act.
“We are absolutely experiencing both a humanitarian and national security crisis at the southwest border with people illegally entering this country at record numbers," he said. "This is the worst in modern times that we’ve experienced.”
In a question-and-answer session at ICE headquarters in Washington, D.C., Morgan claimed that the U.S. is being deluged with so-called “fake families” who turn up with forged documents in hopes that having minor children in tow will allow them to be released in the country while they await an asylum hearing.
From mid-April to May 31, Morgan claimed, 206 fraudulent families were identified and 422 fraudulent documents or claims were uncovered at the border. Of those, 399 individuals presented for prosecutions, and of those, 315 were accepted for prosecution.
The issue, though, is that families arriving at the border are defined by immediate, direct family relationships: parents and children. A stepfather or uncle traveling with a child doesn’t count under U.S. law.
Derek Benner, executive associate director of Homeland Security Investigations who was also on hand to answer questions, could not list the breakdown of how many of the 206 fraudulent family units were not related at all versus how many included non-parental units. He did say, though, that even non-parental family members — like an uncle or grandparent — will show up with fraudulent documents, which is still a violation of the law.
“We do give great deference to alleged relationships other than that direct parent relationship. That’s why the investigative teams are there,” Benner added.
The agency has even experimented with a pilot program in mid-May to test DNA of suspected fraudulent families, and has also requested to expand the program, according to an ICE official.
Morgan rattled off a list of other statistics that the Department of Homeland Security is tracking: 4,500 illegal crossings each day at the southwest border, and one day alone last week 1,000 people entered the country illegally in El Paso, Texas.
The United States Customs and Border Patrol currently has 19,000 people in custody. Of those, most are members of families, though the agency is currently holding 7,500 single adults and nearly 2,500 unaccompanied minors.
“We’re not at a breaking point; we’re in the middle of a breaking point across all agencies,” Morgan claimed, citing Customs and Border Patrol, Health and Human Services, and ICE as being the most affected agencies.
"We are begging. We are asking Congress, please help us”
Morgan is trying to drive home a point: Congress should pass bill that would fund an additional $4.5 billion in an emergency supplemental funding request made by White House to address the southern border crisis. Of the $4.5 billion, $3.3 billion would go to humanitarian aid.
He spoke specifically to the images of overcrowded holding facilities, conditions that have outraged Congress and Americans, calling the situation “unsustainable.”
"We are begging. We are asking Congress, please help us,” Morgan said. “We need that supplemental. We agree that we do not want kids in border patrol facilities designed for adults that are overcrowded.”
Morgan quoted his former boss and Department of Homeland Security Secretary under President Obama Jeh Johnson as saying that a “bad day” during his tenure — 2013 to 2017 — was a 1,000 people a day crossing the border illegally.
Democrats have been adamant that the money not be appropriated for more detention centers for families.
“The Trump administration appears to want much of this $4.5 billion emergency supplemental request to double down on cruel and ill-conceived policies, including bailing out ICE for overspending on detention beds and expanding family detention.," Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), said in May of the White House’s supplemental funding request. "Locking up people who pose no threat to the community for ever-longer periods of time is not a solution to the problems at the border.”
Morgan said there are children being held in adult facilities right now because Health and Human Services, the agency charged with care taking of unaccompanied minors crossing the border, does not have adequate funding to care for them.
As the Mexican delegation descends on Washington, DC for talks about the tariffs that President Trump has announced, Morgan urged them to “get off the sidelines” to be an equal partner addressing the issue of illegal immigration between the two borders.
"I know for a fact that they’ve [the Trump administration] been pushing hard for Mexico to sign that Safe Third Country,” Morgan said, adding, “Signing a safe third country would really mandate Mexico to step up and really do more of what I believe they should be doing.”
Cover: Migrants cross the border between the U.S. and Mexico at the Rio Grande river, as they enter El Paso, Texas, on May 20, 2019 as taken from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)