Members of Congress questioned two top immigration officials Tuesday to understand what the current situation is on the United States’ borders.
“We’ll ask questions extensively from both sides of the aisle, again, seeking truth,” Rep. Clay Higgins, R-La., said. “And there’s no benefit to any of us to conceal the actual numbers and the truth regarding immigration, both legal and illegal.”
Blas Nuñez-Neto, assistant secretary for border and immigration policy at the Department of Homeland Security, and Benjamine “Carry” Huffman, acting deputy commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, testified before the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border Security and Enforcement Tuesday. During the hearing, “Examining DHS’ Failure to Prepare for the Termination of Title 42,” lawmakers questioned the two witnesses about the current state of the border now that Title 42 has expired.
Title 42, a public health measure set in place under the Trump administration during the COVID-19 pandemic, allowed Border Patrol to quickly expel some illegal aliens from the country. The measure expired on May 11.
Tension rose during the hearing when Nuñez-Neto said Congress needs to act to address the situation that the border. Rep. August Pfluger, R-Texas, quickly shot back that Congress already acted when the House passed the Secure the Border Act of 2023.
Below are five critical moments and takeaways from the hearing.
Title 42 Is Gone. What’s Title 8?
Analysts expected that border encounters would spike with the ending of Title 42 on May 11. When the COVID-19-era policy ended, a measure known as Title 8 went into effect.
Title 8 “provides meaningful consequences for all unlawful border crossings, including expedited removal, a five-year ban on U.S. admission and criminal prosecution,” Huffman said.
Since the end of Title 42, Nuñez-Neto said United States Citizenship and Immigration Services has “conducted a record number of credible fear interviews, more than 13,000, for migrants placed in expedited removal.”
“We have repatriated over 38,400 single adults and families to more than 80 countries, including over 1400 nationals of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela who were returned to Mexico under our Title 8 authorities,” Nuñez-Neto said.
Are Border Encounters Between Ports of Entry Dropping?
Before Title 42 expired, U.S. Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz reported on his Twitter a total of 92,605 encounters between ports of entry with illegal aliens during a two-week period in April. In the week leading up to the end of Title 42, Border Patrol encountered 67,759 illegal aliens, according to Ortiz. But in the first two weeks after Title 42 expired, Ortiz reported that apprehensions at the border fell to 50,516.
Both Nuñez-Neto and Huffman testified under oath during the hearing that there has been a 70% drop in the number of illegal alien encounters between ports of entry since the end of Title 42.
Nuñez-Neto and Huffman point to the implementation of the CBP One app as part of the reason why apprehensions are falling between ports of entry.
Through the CBP One app, migrants can schedule appointments at a port of entry to begin their asylum claims. Since the end of Title 42 on May 11, Huffman says CBP has “been encountering over 1,250 non-citizens a day who have made appointments through the CBP One mobile application.”
But even as CBP is reporting a decline in the number of illegal border crossings between ports of entry, it has been unclear whether CBP monthly reports include the number of illegal aliens using the CBP One app and presenting themselves at a port of entry.
“When Congress receives information, the public receives information, from DHS about Southwest land border encounters… are the individuals who are applying and entering the country through the CBP One app, are those individuals included in the figures that we are receiving?” Rep. Michael Guest, R-Miss., asked the witnesses during the hearing.
“My understanding is that when CBP issues its monthly reports, those numbers include encounters at ports of entry, which would include CBP One, and it also includes encounters between ports of entry,” Nuñez-Neto said.
CBP has yet to release its monthly report for May encounters. In April CBP encountered over 275,000 illegal aliens at America’s borders. Since the start of fiscal year 2023 in October, CBP has encountered a record 1.8 million illegal aliens at America’s borders.
‘You Need Congress to Act Here?’
There must be consequences for migrants who enter the country illegally, Nuñez-Neto said in agreement with Pfluger, the Texas congressman, during a hearing Tuesday.
“We need consequences on unlawful entry in order to deter unlawful migration,” Nuñez-Neto said during the subcommittee hearing. But he said the administration can only do so much to address illegal border crossings.
“But we need Congress to act here or there will never be a success on our border,” Nuñez-Neto added.
“You need Congress to act here?” Pfluger questioned the DHS official, before telling him, “We passed the most comprehensive border security package in the history of Congress. We have acted.”
“That is one of the most outrageous statements that I think I’ve ever heard,” Pfluger said.
On May 11, the House passed the Secure the Border Act of 2023. The bill passed largely along party lines in a vote of 219 to 213, with two Republicans voting against it and no Democrats voting for it.
But Nuñez-Neto said Congress must act in a bipartisan manner to address the situation at the border because “neither party’s going to solve this on its own.”
3 Hard Years
Since the start of the Biden administration, CBP reports encountering more than 6.5 million illegal aliens at America’s borders.
Huffman, the CBP acting deputy commissioner, acknowledged that the past three years have been challenging for CBP employees, describing the period as “difficult, exhaustive, and taxing.”
“This period of time has required enormous sacrifices, the greatest of which has been the cost of the lives of our workforce,” Huffman said, adding that CBP has experienced “64 line of duty deaths since 2020, of which 55 were attributed to COVID-19, and tragically, another 36 employees who died by suicide.”
Given the recent decline in the reported CBP border encounters between ports of entry, Guest questioned the witnesses on whether they thought the reduction was temporary and if they would expect a return to the “baseline that we had seen over the last two years.”
“I would say that we’re encouraged by what we’ve seen in the last three weeks,” Nuñez-Neto said. “As I mentioned, we are clear eyed that the factors in our hemisphere that are driving this historic movement of people are still there and that … smugglers use disinformation to drive migration, so this is a fragile equilibrium that we have on the border, and it could be upset in the future for sure.”
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