The release of the FY 2019 apprehension numbers seemed to arrive with a sense of optimistic relief. After May apprehensions hit 144,000 — the largest single month total since FY 2006 — it appeared that the administration’s promise to regain control of America’s borders was imploding. After the House not only ignored the humanitarian and public safety crisis at the border but passed a massive amnesty bill protecting more than 3 million illegal aliens, the administration knew that if anything was going to be done to bring things under control, it would be entirely up to them.
Unfortunately, the rush of Central American families seeking to exploit gaping loopholes in U.S. asylum policy had created enough mayhem at the border that others seized on the opportunity to enter as well. This included 4,153 criminal aliens with outstanding warrants, as well as those being paid by cartels to smuggle an increased supply of hard drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and fentanyl into the U.S.
But the administration demonstrated that it had a multitude of tricks up its sleeve to attack this crisis head on without a scintilla of assistance from Congress. On the U.S. side of the equation, these included expanding detention space and releasing a new rule that allows for adults arriving with children to be held until their hearing dates. It also included a long list of multinational agreements with our neighbors to the south, enlisting their help in fighting the growing problem of human trafficking and asylum abuse that had already led to multiple deaths of children making the dangerous trip north.
After the apprehension peak in May, the numbers quickly came down — decreasing in September by two-thirds. And that’s the good news. The bad news is that apprehensions — roughly 1,400 per day — still remain too high and cannot be allowed to become the new norm. As Jeh Johnson, former secretary of the Department of Homeland Security under President Obama noted, if daily apprehensions under his watch ever exceeded 1,000, he “was going to be in a bad mood all day.”
Clearly, more work has to be done. But what exactly is that work, and who will do it?
Although the Trump administration has tried to institute several fixes with rule changes, they have been immediately challenged by the courts and remain in limbo. If it can ever stop obsessing over impeachment, Congress needs to step in and make some statutory changes to laws that have created massive and easily exploitable loopholes that continue to fuel catch and release.
The first major change would be to amend the Flores Settlement Agreement, which mandates that children can only be detained for a maximum of 20 days. Amending this agreement for children who arrive with adult family members would allow the government to detain these families while they await their asylum hearings. If they are found to have a credible claim, they will be released into the U.S. If not, they will be sent home.
Another necessary statutory change is fixing the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA). This well intended humanitarian law — designed to protect minors from child trafficking — has been turned into a back door for those across the globe to show up in the U.S. and remain here. As a result, since 2000, more than 205,000 unaccompanied minors have arrived in the U.S., and more than a few of them have been recruited and are now active members of MS-13 cells. Congress must tweak the language in this act to ensure the humanitarian law is not abused or used as a gang recruitment tool.
Lastly, Congress needs to allocate sufficient funding to continue with the construction of the border wall, fully fund detention facilities, and continue to hire Border Patrol agents. More than 150 miles of wall are currently under construction, and roughly 280 more miles are in the planning process. The border wall boasts strong backing from the Border Patrol and is a major tool in this nation’s fight against illegal immigration, drugs and terrorism.
The recent downtick in apprehensions along the southwest border clearly demonstrates that those who are thinking about exploiting our laws and entering this country illegally can be dissuaded from doing so through strong leadership and effective multinational agreements. But our borders cannot be truly secure until Congress gets off the sidelines and accepts its responsibility to protect the nation.
Dave Ray is director of communications at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.