tv Senate Judiciary Commitee Hearing on Human Trafficking Along Southern... CSPAN March 11, 2019 2:19pm-5:01pm EDT
across college campuses, that's what it means to be an american. >> what it means to me to be an american is that we're fortunate to live with something called the united states constitution. and with that, we have the privilege of the first amendment and the second amendment, specifically, which allows us to settle our differences in court systems, so we don't have to jump into form holes, dodge bullets and stand in front of tanks. >> voices from the road, on c-span. are. the head of u.s. customs and border protection testified before the senate judiciary committee recently. about human smuggling. he answered questions about providing medical care to families crossing the border, processing asylum seekers, and the president's declaration of a national emergency. >> the meeting will come to order and i want to thank our
witnesses, i'll introduce you in a bit and square you in, in a bit but i will give a brief opening statement followed by senator feinstein, senator cornyn, senator dushen who chair the immigration subcommittee. today we're here at the request of democratic colleagues to have a hearing, surrounding the death of 7-year-old jacqueline mcquinn, i hope i said the name right, 8-year-old felipe alonzo gomez, and we want to hear about their passing, and custody, and we will be hearing from commissioner mclean, mr. ball alice ard, mr. fisher, dr. lenten, who i will introduce in a bit. but to my democratic colleagues, all of us share the desire to find out how to make sure that children that we have custody of are well taken care of, and that we avoid injury and death to the fullest extent possible, and i
promise you that if there are things to be changed, we will change them. i've looked at this, i've listened to the people in charge and i think they acted responsibly and that's why we're here today, to make sure we test that concept. but there's another side to this story. and that is that the customs and border protection has a job to do, to protect our nation, our citizens, our loved ones. with a record number of illegal immigrants crossing each year, we are facing a crisis at the southern border. and the cbp agents on the front lines. they are the soldiers in the fight. there is no doubt that we face unprecedented border security humanitarian challenges today, at our southern border.
i want to be direct. contrary to what some political opponents and media outlets claim, the situation in our southern border is dangerous, and growing worse. it is not a hoax. it's not a manufactured crisis. it's not a cable television ploy. it is real. it is serious. it is a threat. and it poses a direct challenge to the safety, security, to citizens of the united states. to believe otherwise is to deny reality and ignore the facts. and here are the facts. from the first five months of 2019. a 55% increase in the number of unaccompanied minors apprehended at the border over the same period of time last year. 340% increase in the number of family units apprehended during the same time last year. the american taxpayers are absorbing the effect of this
crisis. the cost to the american taxpayer of housing an unaccompanied minor is 375 dollars per day on average, and in some circumstances, can go up to $850. the cost per sleer year of an unaccompanied man ser $136,875. as of january the 4th, 2019, there were 11,981 children in our custody, as unaccompanied minors making it a $1.6 billion a year obligation if nothing changes. it is no coincidence that two group, unaccompanied minors and family units are crossing the border at an alarming rate. our immigration laws require that both unaccompanied children and family units be released
into the interior of the united states after apprehension. let me say that again. why are so many coming? they understand if they get here, they almost always get released. they're about 45,000 bed spaces, we're on track to apprehend in 2019, 640,000 illegal immigrants. dot math. if you're an unaccompanied minor and you make it to america after 20 day, the border patrol hands you over to labor hhs and only 2% of unaccompanied minors ever go back to the country where they came from. so imagine being a parent, sending your kid on this journey, the dangers they face, but it must be so bad, that they're willing to accept those dangers, because if they get to america, they got a 98% chance that your child will be in america forever. if you're a family coming and you get apprehended, your chance of staying is really high. i don't blame the people coming
as much as i blame us. we have created a system that is enticing people to do very dangerous things, paying coyotes, doing all kind of horrible things to get here, because our laws are a magnet for people that continue to come, and if we don't fix it now, it only gets worse later. so there are two real reasons this is happening. the flores decision requires people to be released after 20 days. the trafficking victims protection reauthorization act also prohibits the united states from repate phthalating people as if they came from mexico, if you're a central american unaccompanied minor, we can't send you back to your home. the bottom line is, the flores decision, putting a time limit on how long we can hold people, leads to their release into the
country, and we have a law that treats central american triangle nation children differently if they came from mexico or canada, and they're coming by droves. i've worked over a decade with many of my colleagues on this committee to fix this system. if we do not fix these two legal loopholes, we're only going to continue to feel fuel of smuggling of persons from the northern triangle countries. these laws have incentive for smugglers, and everyone else who benefits from tillegal immigration. i know from my own personal experience dealing with this issue, that we do not have the necessary buy-in from the american people for solution dealing with illegal immigration of those already in the united states, if we cannot convince them, there will not be a third
wave 20 years from now. the good news is most americans are okay with a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants who are here that are nonfelons, that are willing to pay a fine for the law they violated, pass an english proficiency exam, go through a criminal background check, and wait their turn and the wait could be well over a decade. people are okay with that, if you can convince them we're not going to have future ways of illegal immigration. you cannot tell them, the american public, that they will not be a third wave, unless you fix these two laws, and do many other things, like e-verify. so i'm hoping that one day, somehow, we can fix this problem. but to those who serve in the border patrol and i.c.e., you're the good guys and gals, not the bad ones. i know how hard you work. and i can only imagine what it's like to go to work every day and
be handed this problem. not enough beds. not enough capability. not enough capacity. and when you bring the problem up to the congress, they turn it on you. i'm hoping this hearing will change that. we will hear about the death of these two children, and we'll work together to find a way to make sure it doesn't happen again, to the extent possible. but i also hope, out of this hearing, that we will take some constructive action and quite frankly listen to what you have to say as to how we can help you stop this. bottom line, is this continues, it's like adding a congressional district of illegal immigrants every year. the average congressional district is about 600,000 people. this year alone we are on track to do 640. this has to stop. senator feinstein. >> thanks very much, mr.
chairman. i appreciate your remarks. and i thank you for scheduling today's hearing. and commissioner, i want you to know that i very much enjoyed meeting with you, you came across as a straight shooter, and obviously with experience, and i want you to know that's very much appreciated on this side of the aisle. as you know, we have both short-term and long-term assessments, and they're confusing of what's happening at the southern border. in the short term, apprehensions at the border are up. the "washington post," and "new york times" today, both report that crossings were up 30% in the last month. from 58,000 in january, to 76,000 in february. we know that many of these families seeking asylum were unable to present themselves at ports of entry. because cbp has limited the number of asylum applicants who
may enter at these ports each day. and i hope you'll talk about that. in the longer term, i'm told the total apprehensions at the border last year were actually at the, that's last year, their fifth lowest levels over the past 46 years well below their peak of 1.6 million in the year 2000. so if you could reconcile those differences, that would be appreciated, too. i hope you'll begin by stating clearly what the figures are, where you believe these crossings occur, and how much these numbers have increased or decreased. i hope you'll also address how the changes in administration policies have impacted these numbers, and i hope you'll speak directly to the topic of today's hearing, which is how immigrant children are being treated.
families who comfortable to the united states are seeking refugee from violence and poverty in their home countries. and there must be proper care provided and it is so difficult, but especially for the children, given that two children died in cbp custody in december. specifically, families need prompt access to the asylum system at our ports. and proper pediatric care needs available in the cbp facilities, if you could comment on that, that would be appreciated. we are also hear to discuss the separation of families. there will be legislation to prevent this, but it's clear that cbp has not investigated this issue enough. it's difficult to get figures. it's difficult to find out where placements are. and i hope you'll address these policies, identify techniques,
and tell us what unification plans for separated families exists today. with respect to the needs of children at the border, i hope cbp will implement improvements that account for differences between the medical needs of children and those of adults. children who fall ill are particularly vulnerable in detention. unlike adults, sick children can become severely dehydrated within minutes or hours and rapidly go into shock. i'm sure you know this from your experience well. children also need good condition, and prompt access to medications and medical facilities. and this is especially true for infants, who have suffered particular trauma in cbp custody in recent months. in december, a five-month-old infant was hospitalized shortly after release from border patrol
custody, where she was held in freezing cells, and denied access for her prescribed antibiotics. if that's wrong, i hope you'll correct it in your remarks. in light of these tragic events, i hope we can agree that cbp must account for the humanitarian needs of children in its care, and look for ways to increase and strengthen that capacity. these recommendations are consistent with the findings of experts from the american academy of pediatrics, including dr. julie linton, who will testify today. it's important, i think, that the united states maintain the crucial protections for children that exist in our legal system. the building blocks of this humanitarian system are the trafficking victims protection act, and the flores settlement agreement, which the chairman has mentioned, both of which we
must preserve. the trafficking victims protection act contains provisions which i authored, providing children must be screened for asylum, and transferred out of immigration custody, within 72 hours. the flores settlement provides that children must be held in the least restrictive setting possible, and should not be detained for more than 20 days. it's clear family separation is harmful to children's health. cbp states that it only separates families in order to keep children safe. however, cbp officers don't have the necessary child welfare training to determine when a child's parent poses a danger. the keep families together act, which i reintroduced in january,
would require consultation with a child welfare expert, before any family separation could take place. as refugees international, highlighted in the statement that i will now submit for the record, if i may, mr. chairman, children and parents should not be separated without input from professional trained in child welfare. i hope you'll support this today. senator cruz and i are working jointly on immigration legislation, which contains the nonseparation of children, as well as we've worked on the shortfall of judges, of staff, of professionals, in the arena going way back, and i've been
very happy the justices have been willing to support some figures which i believe is really necessary, and i look forward to finishing this with senator cruz, and being able to make it public for everybody to take a look at. commissioner, again, thank you for coming to testify today. and i hope our discussion today will help us agree on ways to protect children's health and safety. just a personal statement, i remember going back to the early '90s, going down to otay mesa, standing up on a cliff, at a place called carl's jr., with binoculars, and watching the enormity of what comes across that border. the trucks, after truck, after truck, way beyond the horizon, and the horizon doesn't change, and i've seen the addition of the x-ray devices, as well as
other things, and i've asked my staff to make visitations on various places where children are housed. suffice it to say that i think i represent, and i know the chairman does for his side, that our side of the aisle is really, really concerned about this. and we look to you for forward thinking action. i don't think, see any signs where the next few months are going to be any better than the last few months, and we must gear up to deal with it in a humane and professional way. so thank you for being here, i look forward to the testimony. >> senator cornyn? >> thank you, mr. chairman. the commissioner, welcome. listening to the opening statements, it sounds like we're ships passing in the night. each has their version of reality. but facts are stubborn things. we know that cbp is facing unprecedented challenges today.
and i applaud your efforts, as well as the men and women who work with you, who are on the front lines of this challenge on a daily basis. it seems like this hearing, the initial premise of this hearing is about the effects of illegal immigration, rather than the causes that but i hope to talk about both. i suspect the hearing will not primarily focus on the number of men, women and children who are robbed, raped and killed, en route, from their homes, across our southern border, senator cruz, i know, has visited val firias, the checkpoint in brooks county, where one of the biggest problems that county has is the number of dead bodies of people who died from exposure, and the cost to local taxpayers to simply bury their bodies, or their remains.
and so obviously cbp is overwhelmed by what president obama called a humanitarian crisis in 2014. today, we see hashtags that call what the president and others have described as a fake emergency at the border. but in order to believe that there is a fake emergency at the border, you have to be blind to the facts, or simply unwilling to listen. thevation suggestions we're hearing about some of the, dealing with the causes of illegal immigration strike me as discussions we've had in the past about nation building, in central america. we all can empathize, as the chairman has said, with the plight of families who are subjected to violence, and other threats in their home. but it can't be that a nation simply has open borders to the
waves of humanity that come into our country, that we've been seeing in recent months. or that border patrol, rather than dealing with the drugs and the human trafficking, are handing out diapers and juice boxes, while the drug cartels take advantage of the fact that border patrol is not available to do their main job, which is law enforcement, because they're dealing with the humanitarian crisis of these children and family units. i feel particularly strongly about this topic, because of where i live, and the state i represent. we have 1200 miles of common border with mexico. i wonder how some of my other colleagues in the senate and in the congress would feel if there was a pipeline from central america, or mexico, directly into their state, and they had to deal, at the city, the county, and the state level, with the public safety and humanitarian crisis presented.
i bet some of them would feel a little differently. last week, the border patrol in the rio grande valley arrested more than 1,300 illegal immigrants in a single day. as you know, mr. commissioner, cbp announced that more than 76,000 people crossed the border in february alone. 76,000 in one month. this is the largest monthly total in more than a decade. and i understand where my friend, the senator from california, says well, the numbers of people detained are down from their million plus high, to roughly 400,000 people last year, but that's, but the main problem is the people, as the chairman has described, who basically have figured a way to thread the needle and exploit the vulnerabilities, or the gap in our asylum laws, and to basically win at making their way permanently into the united states, never to be removed.
at this time last year, compared to this time last year, family unit apprehensions have increased 209%. in the rio grande valley sector. family unit apprehensions have increased 497% in the del rio sector, and most staggering, in the el paso sector, overall apprehensions have increased 434%, while family unit apprehensions have increased an incredible 1,639%. this is not a crisis, people say? this is not an emergency? this is not something that should generate our best efforts and good faith to work together on a bipartisan basis to address? i hear absolutely no suggestions from our democratic friends on how to deal with the causes of these problems, but rather, the
focus seems to be on the hand that you've been dealt, along with your colleagues at cbp, dealing with people who have made their way, a long way from their home, and have been suffered from exposure, and mistreatment by the very people to woman whom they've entrusted their lives who have no interest in their welfare or their life other than the fact that it generates money for them and their criminal enterprise. my understanding that the actions surrounding the tragic deaths of the two migrant children were focused on here late last year are currently under review by multiple agencies and i look forward to seeing the results of these investigations and urge all of us to withhold judgment until they're complete. but let me just say, mr., or commissioner, i don't think that the flores decision should be preserved. i don't think we should treat
children and family units from noncontiguous countries any differently than we should treat children and family units coming from mexico. that's what the current gaps in the law provide for. and that is the cause of the humanitarian crisis, and the overwhelming of the capacity of the u.s. government to deal with this threat. not only from a humanitarian standpoint, but from a safety and security standpoint as well. thank you. >> thanks, mr. chairman. and commissioner mcaileenan again, it is good to see you thanks for your service to the country. i would like to say a word about the chairman of the committee i believe he comes to this issue with a brack ground few of us can share, that we've worked together for month, make it years on this issue, senator graham is the only republican senator before you today who voted for aggressive immigration reform, some were not here,
those who were here voted against it, it goes back to 2013, it was an effort with senator john mccain, chuck schumer and others, eight of us, worked for six months or longer to put together a comprehensive bill to address many of the issues we're facing today. passed it in the united states senate. with a bipartisan vote. and the republicans in the house refused to even bring it up for consideration. so the problems continue and worsen. and the problems we face today that we will hear testimony on have been outlined already by my colleagues. there are several aspects of this which i would like to highlight. when commissioner mcaileenan came into my office in october 20617, i asked him a question, as this crisis, as they term it, was starting to unfold. if i gave you a blank check, with customs and border protection, a blank check, what would you spend it on to make our border safer and more secure? his answer to me. technology and personnel. and i asked him, be specific
about technology. he said sea portals, x-ray and scanning devices, we can scan cars and trucks coming across the border, 90% of the narcotics coming across the state come through parts of entry and we only scan 18% of the vehicles coming across the border. we should scan them all. sounded right to me. sounded practical. and then i looked at president trump's budget and he asked for $44 million in 2019 for that purpose. luckily, this came up, as the commissioner knows, during the course of our situation room meetings, during the shutdown, and the president, maybe overruled some people at the table, and changed his position. so i support. >> it so the conference committee bill that we passed in the senate has over $500 million. for these devices. does that make us more secure and safer? i'll bet it does. and so did commissioner mcaleenane when he made that recommendation. i would like to address the basic issue that we ought to face here and as senator cornyn said, facts are facts.
here are the facts. the country bordering the united states is mexico. and the city of chicago, there are more mexican hispanic americans than any other nationality and yet we've reached a point in immigration where we have an outflow from the united states into mexico. the mexicans are not gathering at the border to come into the united states. it's the people who live in honest dure, el salvador and guatemala. why are they coming? they are coming because the situation they face at home. and what they face at home is so worrisome, and so dangerous, they are willing to literally risk their lives to come to the united states. if we want to get down to the root causes of why we're sitting here today, we cannot ignore the reality. and the reality is that drug cartels and gangs, are terrorizing the people in these three country. the reality is that climate change and the drought has made subsistence agriculture a failure in these countries and
the reality is these people in these countries are willing to risk everything, sell everything they own, to give to a coyote or smuggler, to try to make it to the united states and live and survive. and they know what they face in the journey. not just the loss of their money. but possibly the loss of their lives, and the lives of their children. they are that desperate to do it. and so as we talk about all of the things we need to do at the border, can we ignore what is going on in these three countries? what's happening in these three countries has to be focused on, if we're going to solve this problem. and yet, the administration has made a dramatic cut in assistance to these countries when they immediate it the most. and who are the drug gangs and cartels? well, they are seasoned criminals who now have overtake ng the law enforcement agencies of these countries. how did they get in this position? i'll tell you. i'll give you two reasons. one is drug money from the united states. flowing back to these countries. the second is guns from the united states, glow flowing into
these countries. 70% of the crime guns they find in these countries come from the united states. so you wonder why these drug gangs and cartels are menacing these people and threatening them and scaring them to the point where they're ready to risk their lives? that's part of the calculation. i want to address two or three things that were raised by, i see you didn't start the clock, but i'm going to assume that i just have a few minutes left, because i know my colleagues are waiting patiently. cost of detention. it is expensive to detain families, children, individuals. i don't dispute what the chairman has said in terms of the cost. but the detention is for a purpose. the detention is for the purpose of making sure, or at least hoping that they return for a hearing, as to their el jiblgib for status under asylum. or the alternatives a fraction of what the chairman quoted? at least three. there are three alternatives to detention, which cost three or four dollars a day.
let me tell you what they are. ankle bracelets. over 95% of the people return for their hearing if there's ankle bracelets. having some sort of advocacy and counseling. over 90% of the people will return for for a hearing if the counseled as to what their right the will be. access to an attorney is another guarantee of return for the hearing. a fraction of the cost of detention. and yet, these things are not even being considered as alternatives, but we're talking about is building beds and cells and cages. let me also say about the flores decision, the flores decision gives us a choice. the flores decision says to us after a child has been held for 20 days, they can no longer be treated as detainees or prisoners. they have to be put in some family setting. when you look at this, you can understand why many of us believe that after we've gone through zero tolerance, we're 2,800 that we know of, 2,800
infants, toddlers, and children, were forcibly removed from their parents and then lost in computer systems in this federal government. is it any wasn'tonder we want te care of the children in the future that are in our custodies, not kids in cages? flores guarantees that. and those who want to do away with flores are prepared to accept, i'm afraid, terrible alternatives. let me just close by saying this. the situation in central america in these three countries that gives rise to this hearing is a serious situation that needs to be addressed directly or will continue to pay these prices. you cannot treat emfhasima with cough drops. it is naive and wrong. we need to treat both causes. the root causes of the migration to the united states and the treatment that come to the border. we can it this.
i hope we can do it on a bipartisan basis. >> testimony you're about to give is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you got. >> how do you say your last name? >> mcaleenan. >> okay. kevin. >> yes. >> all right. kevin is the commissioner of the u.s. custom and border protection agency since march of 2018. he oversees 60,000 employees, manages a budget of $13 billion, and ensures the effective operation of cbp's efforts to protect national security while promoting economic prosperity and security. counterterrorism, border security, trade enforcement, are all in your bailiwick. there's $4 trillion in trade.
365 million people travel through ports of entry. you oversee the largest law enforcement agency and second largest revenue collecting source in the federal government. and i think you do a hell of a job. and we're glad to have you and floor is yours. >> good morning, and thank you, mr. chairman, ranking member feinstein, members of the committee, it's a privilege to appear before you again today. i do appreciate, mr. chairman, the committee calling this hearing on the critical issue of human smuggling at our borders and cbp's responses to it. since i last appeared before the committee almost three months ago, we have seen the challenges of the border increase significantly. yesterday, as both of you noted in your opening statements, cbp released the numbers of enforcement actions at our southwest border for both illegal crossings between ports of entry and in municipal arrivals at ports of entry for the month of february. these numbers reflect the highest level of illegal apprehensions of any february in
over a decade. in total, we saw more than 76,000 apprehensions, inadmissible arrivals and within that number, in just four weeks we saw 40,385 members of family units and 7,250 unaccompanied children. as you noted, mr. chairman, that's an almost 340% increase for the fiscal year to date. in family units. and 50%-plus in unaccompanied children. we have now apprehended or encountered more families in just five months and five days than last year's record total. not only are the numbers a s increasing, the percentage of people from countries in the northern triangle of central america is growing as well. today, 70% of crossings are from these countries and a full 63% of crossings are vulnerable families and children. also, while november of this fiscal year marked the first time that any other country exceeded the number of mexican nationals apprehended and encountered by cbp, guatemalans
and hondurans are crossing in larger numbers no u than mexican nationals. these numbers are significant because unlike historical crossing levels, which were comprised of a large majority of single adults from mexico, who could be repatriated quickly, families and children from central america require increased care and processing and are released into the united states pending adjudication of their immigration claims. within these numbers, we are confronting challenging new smuggling cycles, patterns, and methods. so-called caravans where 500 or more migrants formed groups in central america, mostly in honduras, and travel together through mexico. separately, large groups of mostly family units from guatemala are traveling on buses through mexico to the u.s. border in a much shorter smuggling cycle making the journey in as little as four to seven days. so far this year, we've seen 70 instances of large groups of over 100 migrants crossing the border illegally. that's what we're showing on the screen right now.
those are large group arrivals in el paso sector stretching from central el paso all the way to the bootheel of new mexico. in one case, agents encountered a group of 334 arriving together on 8 commercial buses. smugglers are abandoning these groups in the most remote areas of our border including antelope wells, new mexico, and aho and yuma, arizona. the availability of these methods mean more young children are being brought to the border and we're seeing migrants arrive with illnesses and medical conditions in unprecedented numbers. this reality was realized tragically in december when two migrant children under the age of 10, jacqueline, and felipe gomez alonzo, died at hospitals under the care of el paso sector. i believe our agents did everything they possibly could to save these young lives, reviving jacqueline and transporting her by air
ambulance. bringing fell lip p ining felip twice, it was not enough. in response, cbp mounted significant new efforts to increase medical checks and care upon arrival at border patrol stations or ports of entry. in january, i issue the an interim medical directive guiding cbp's deployment of enhanced medical efforts to mitigate the risk to and improve the care for individuals in cbp custody along our border as a result of these surges in children and families. developed in consultation with medical and pediatric experts and being made publicly available. since the directive was signed with the help of our interagency partners including the coast guard, certified medical practitioners working alongside our personnel have screened over 12,000 juchl juveniles and trand an average of 55 people to the hospital every day ensuring essential medical care for thousands of migrants over the past two months. we're currently working to expand medical care to all nine border patrol sectors and all
ports of entry. at the same time, border patrol agents out on the front line have continued their life-saving mission rescuing over 4,300 people at risk during the crossing last year. in addition to the dramatically increasing volume of unlawful crossings between ports of entry where 87% of our arrivals were last month, we're also seeing unprecedented increases in asylum seekers arriving at ports of entry, where we work to provide safe and lawful access. after recording a record level of over 38,000 asylum seekers last year, itself, 120% increase from fiscal year '17, we have almost reached that total just in the first five months of this year and 90% increase already in fiscal year '19 at our ports of entry. we are working hard to provide access for asylum at ports of entry. these flows have border security consequences, though. as families and children are routinely used to divert our agents and occupy them while
smugglers bring elicit drugs and single adults trying to evade capture across our border. requirements to process, transport, and care for the humanitarian needs of family and children requires 25% to 40% of our agents in key sectors, we know our capacity to secure that border is reduced as our personnel are tied down. what is causing these trends? as i explained to this committee in december, these increases in demographic changes in crossings are direct responses to the vulnerabilities in our legal framework that have become well known to smugglers and migrants. these weaknesses in our laws now represent the most significant factors impacting border security, and include the inability to keep families together while they complete expeditious and fair immigration proceedings. instead, crossing with a child is a guarantee of a speedy release. the asylum gap. where approximately 80% of individuals meet the initial credible fear bar, while only 10% to 20% are found to have valid asylum claims at the end of immigration court proceedings.
and the disparate treatment under the trafficking victims protection reauthorization act, which allows for children arriving from mexico and canada to be repatriated but not from other countries, including those in central america, regardless of the views of those governments. these statutory deficiencies ensurelikelihood of success and trends they invited have significant and dangerous consequences. the belief that our system will allow migrants to stay in the u.s. indefinitely even if they enter illegally and whether or not they have a valid asylum claim is clearly the driving pull factor for those making the decision to journey to our border. along with important push factors which include challenging conditions in many parts of central america, my grants are incentivized to put their lives in the hands of smugglers and make the dangerous push north. the cost of the pull and push factors are seen every day in transnational criminal organizations and lives lost on the journey and loss of youth and energy from countries of the northern triangle. from the experience of the men and women of u.s. customs and border protection, this is
clearly both a border security and humanitarian crisis. there are solutions to this crisis. we need to continue to support the governments of central america to improve economic opportunity, to address poverty and hunger, and to improve governance and security. the state department announced $5.8 billion in aid and investment commitments to these countries in december. we must work with president lopez obador's administration in mexico to address a transnational criminal organizations that are profiting and preying on migrants and we must invest in border security. modern border barrier system, additional agents and officers, additional technology at and between ports of entry, and air and marine support. we must also have a whole of u.s. government approach to address children's unique medical needs in the undeniable humanitarian challenges we are facing. all of these steps with ill m s significant difference. in order to ensure a lasting change at the border we must address the vulnerabilities in
our legal framework. i look forward to answering the committee's questions today. >> if you had a choice between closing or changing the laws, money for barriers or anything else, what would be your top priority? >> i believe we need both, mr. chairman, but the immediate impact, 63% of our traffic at the border, would be addressed by a change in the laws. >> change in law affects 63% of the problem. 70% of the people you're apprehending comes from three countries. is that what you said? >> correct. >> do you think it would be wide for us to invest in those countries to give them a better life so we'd have less of a problem? >> i do. >> how the system works. if an unaccompanied minor make ts makes it to the united states, what's the likelihood they will be soesent back to their home country if they're not from mexico or canada? >> less than 2% based on the '17 statistics. it's very rare. >> it you're a parent out there somewhere and can somehow get your children into the united states, the chances are they
never leave. >> correct. >> so if you're a family looking to come to the united states, what signal are we sending to you if you come from somepla pl other than mexico? >> the smugglers are actively advertising if they come with a child, they'll be released. >> wait a minute. slow down. so those people in the smuggling business are actively advertising, i guess in these three countries, for sure. >> correct. >> that if you con bringan brind with you, your chances of staying in the united states are almost guaranteed. >> correct. >> that puts us in a bad spot. if we separate families, you can at least deal with adults. is that correct? >> that is correct. >> okay. if you don't separate families, then they're released in 20 days? >> if you don't separate families, they're actually released much more quickly than that. most families are never even going to an i.c.e. family residential center, being released directly to ngos or to
transportation hubs. >> what percentage of those people show up for their hearings. >> i defr to i.c.e., immigration court system on the exact stats. less than half are showing up when we don't have an alternative to detention place. >> okay. senator durbin mentioned some things that are intriguing to me to make detention cheaper. but at the end of f the dthe dat you have to address the reason they come? >> you need to do both, no question. what we've seen -- >> if you just made it cheaper for the government, that doesn't affect why they come. >> correct. >> all right. so we have -- >> what you need to do is get immigration court results. >> right. >> which we're not able to do consistently if a migrant is not detained during their process. >> but our goal is to deter people from taking this journey. what percentage of people apprehended are apprehended outside of port of entries?
>> 87% of crossings in february were illegal crossings. >> okay. someplace other than a port of entry. >> right. >> that's why you need barriers? >> absolutely need barriers. >> 87% of the people that are apprehended are apprehended not at a port of entry but outside a point of entry. >> correct. >> when you tell us you need $5.7 billion for barriers, you've located the top ten places that you think that would make a difference, is that correct? >> yes. >> you didn't make this up. >> no, we submitted a rigorously developed border security improvement plan to congress outlining our top priorities along the entire southwest border. >> so if we invested more in the triangle countries, that could help, you agree? >> i agree. >> if we built barriers where barriers make sense, that would happ help? >> certainly. >> if we changed the laws that create this problem, that would help most of all? >> dramatically. >> okay. >> and we could possibly lower the cost of kdetention by doing some of the things senator durbin did. >> agree as well.
>> okay. doing nothing is not working. do you agree with that? >> yes. >> as to these two children, when will the report come out about the care they were given? >> yeah, as noted i think by senator cornyn, the inspector general is conducting investigations and reviews of both cases. we eagerly await those reviews and, of course, the medical examiners in el paso and el magordo are analyzing the cause of death. we're looking to find that information to apply any lessenilessons learned to improve our efforts. >> how long have you been involved in this business? >> 17, 18 years almost. >> okay. are all the trends going the wrong way? >> this is a brand-new set of phenomenon with families and children. yes, the trends are going the wrong way. we are far from our historic lows of 2017 or 2011. we're headed toward 650, as you noted, or 750,000 crossings and
arrivals this year. that's much higher number, much close to historical highs than historical lows. >> is it fair to say we're facing a crisis in these two areas? is. >> absolutely. >> the solutions you have outlined, do you think they would make an appreciable difference? >> i'm certain they would, yes. >> how much reduction do you think would occur if we changed our laws? >> on -- so the three changes i outline, and this is not to say that they're not important parts of the flores settlement. having the -- >> more flexible. >> having appropriate conditions for children is essential and we're committed to that. what we're asking is for the ability for families to be detained together in an appropriate -- >> you think that would deter people from coming in the future? >> they need to be able to finish an immigration court proceeding becauseasylum. >> but the advertisers would have a different story to tell. is that correct? >> they'd have a tougher story
to tell. right now they tell them they'll be released and they're right. >> it would change the demand hopefully. >> yes. >> what percentage of the peo e people, of the 640,000 we're going to apprehend, how many do we miss? >> so we are at the highest levels of our interdiction effectiveness rate. we have a ton of capability we're augmenting with the investments this year. families and children are by in large turning themselves in so we have about 100% apprehension rate for families and children. it's those single adults evading capture, the smugglers -- >> is it fair to say as you're dealing with the growing crisis with family and children, you'll have less resources to deal with the other problem? >> absolutely accurate, yes. >> thank you. >> thanks, mr. chairman. mr. chairman. i was pleased to hear that you said sth said that families should be held together. are you taking any action to make that possible?
and what is that action, if you are? >> so, just to be clear, right now, families are not held together for very long. i.c.e. has two family residential centers where they have capacity for about 2,500 families and they generally are there for 8 to 12 days but most families are actually being released immediately by i.c.e. from border control custody either to nongovernmental organizations or transportation hubs. they're not going into custody at all. >> can you give me a number of families currently held? do you have that? >> so on any given day right now, for u.s. customs and border protection, because we're apprehending almost 1,500 families a day, we generally have about 3,000 families in our custody that are being processed. >> every day. >> and transferred to i.c.e. but these are short-term holding -- >> i understand. >> -- processes. >> but 3,000 families in custody every day now and projected forward. >> correct.
well, we're projecting potential increases in that -- >> what are you projecting? >> so without -- this is the highest february we've seen in over a decade. >> right, absolutely. >> for 10,000 families a week in february is new territory for us. typically march, april, and may, we see higher crossing numbers so if we're going to see those seasonal trends applied to this baseline, we could see 75,000 families by april or may. and that's an extraordinary concern. >> wow. after dhs separates a child from a parent at the border, hhs is charged with placing the child with a sponsor in the united states. as i understand it, in september, the dhs inspector general found, and i quote, no evidence of any central database acceptable to both dhs and hhs to locate and track separated parents and minors. in january, the hhs found cbp is
not telling hhs which children were separated from their families and why. does cbp keep written records of the reason for each separation of a child from a parent, and if so, do you send a copy to hhs? >> yes and yes. the quote from the hhs ig report is not accurate in terms of our current status. in april of last year, cbp modified our systems to record that field and shares that information with hhs. >> so you believe there is the coordination between cbp and hhs that is fluid, flowing, and -- well, nothing's absolute, but -- >> it's not absolute, senator. there is absolutely coordination, but we need to continue to improve our system. there's no one system for immigration right now. we think we can create a better process where there's a unified portal that provides access to all of the individual agencies'
databases. cbp, i.c.e., hhs, and doj, uir. >> well, i can find no reason to disagree with you. i think this is really important. i think how we treat families, really important, and particularly children, and i think the two young children age 7 and age 8 that died in cbp custody in december, it's my understanding that after the first child died, the american academy of pediatrics asked cbp to reach out and talk with pediatricians about how to prevent tragedies like this in the future. could you talk a little bit about those conversations? did they take place and what was the result? >> absolutely. i've had the privilege of speaking with dr. colleen kraft, the head of the american association of pediatricians three times in the last month and a half or so. additionally, she's made experts
on her team available to consult with our chief medical officer at the department of homeland security and our team that's building now processes and policies. we added a pediatrician to the advisory council panel that's assessing care of families and children in our custody right now that was requested by me and secretary nielsen. so we have an ongoing interaction with doctors and pediatric experts to try to improve our ability to identify medical risk and to care for children in our custody. >> well, if you had to put a reason for the deaths of the two children, i know this is speculation, in december, so that the actions that you take remedially will make some difference, what would that be? what would the changes be? >> so i can't wadon't want to g front of the investigation or the medical examiner in terms of the reason for the deaths of those two children -- >> i'm not asking for that. >> i think improving our processes and system to have better access to medical care,
to have certified practitioners who are able to identify conditions in children and respond appropriately, is critical and we appreciate the $138 million in investments in the fy '19 subjebudget that we' already putting into effect by increasing our contract capacity. >> to do that, would you feel you need additional legislation or this is well within your authority to put together and expedite? >> well, in my opening statement, i noted that i think it's a whole of u.s. government effort. we could not -- we would not be in the position we're in now, and i believe we've saved dozens of lives in the past three months without the help of the public health service commission corps, without the help of the u.s. coast guard medical corpsmen and women who joined us from providing medical checks as these families and children arri arrive. so it's not something we can do just internally, the funding will help dramatically, but we need that -- the resources of the whole government to help us identify and address these situations. >> well, just many years ago, i was looking at television and i
saw a young chinese girl before a judge up in northern part of our country on the coast, and that's when the big container ships were coming in. and perhaps, i told you, she was sobbing. she could not understand. we then drafted legislation which has created the dh -- the hhs part of this. and my overall goal was to see a seamless coming together of departments so that within each of the responsibilities, they were able to work out a course of action which gave the best possible situation for families and keeping them together. that has not happened in my judgment. if it has, i would like to see it. do you believe it's happened? >> i believe there are opportunities for improvement. i think -- i want to make clear that as we recommend changes to the tbpra, it's not to the
important role of hhs and child welfare professionals being responsible for unaccompanied children. not at all. it's the ability to handle that from an immigration perspective in a consistent way with how we handle children arriving from mexico. >> and what would that consistent way be? >> to allow for repatriation and appropriate circumstances in coordination with central american governments to make sure that child is in the right situation from an immigration and a welfare and safety perspective. >> what would you do to enable the child and the parents that this is another big problem, as we know. the process to bring them together seems not adequate, to be mild about it. >> so, i just want to be clear, separation is extraordinarily rare. it's about 1 per day out of the 1,400 families that are arriving. we're doing it for reasons of the welfare of the child, either a serious criminal issue on the parent, a medical condition, or
a child safety concern. >> so how many children are held separately now? >> since june, we've had about 250 children separated. again, it's about one per day, senator, that are based -- >> that's all you have in custody separately, 250 children, all over the united states? >> they arrived as part of a family unit. remember, the chairman noted that hhs is overhas over 11,500 children in custody. those all arrived unaccompanied. >> well, we'll talk more about it. my time is up. thank you, mr. chairman. >> senator cornyn, what's morale like at your organization? >> we have an incredible group of men and women, mr. chairman. i mean, they showed up for 35 days without pay. dealing with these challenges and kept after their mission. they want support for their enforcement objectives, and, you know, while additional investments in personnel and technology and border barrier are going to make a big difference, you know, this part
of their mission is a real challenge. there's no question. >> senator cornyn? >> commissioner, secretary nielsen recently testified that the cartels currently make about a half a billion dollars a year in human smuggling. would you disagree with that? >> just to the extent that i think as emerging prices are going up, we're seeing 5,000 to 7,000 per person and as the numbers go up, those broprofitse going to be $2.5 billion or more in this year. >> this is a big business for the -- >> no question. >> -- the organizations, right? they're winning right now, aren't they? k. >> yes, they're profiting tremendously. >> that's because congress hasn't closed the loopholes you testified about, correct? >> i think that's one of the main causes. >> so cbp is a law enforcement agency, right? >> yes, senator. >> you're not a child welfare agency, are you? >> no, but we do our best to take care of and protect children that we do encounter. >> let's talk about the journey that guatemalan children ages 7
and 8 make coming to the country. how far from the u.s. border is guatemala? >> depending on where you arrive in mexico, you're looking at almost 1,500 miles. >> so isn't it the case that by the time that many migrants, including children, show up at theborder, they're suffering from dehydration and expo shower to the elements? >> it's an arduous journey even with a new express route. on a commercial bus for five, seven days. the traditional smuggling time is 25 to 30 days held in stash houses and camp fd conditions, obviously not sanitary, not necessarily with appropriate food and water. any matter how the central american flows are coming it's going to be arduous for the children. >> aren't many of the migrants exposed to sexual abuse? k. >> absolutely, horrific stories
of both along the journey. >> aren't many of the migrants suffering from some disease, some infectious disease or some sort? >> yes, obviously, it you have large numbers of people in closed conditions, flu season, like i said, we're taking 55 people to the hospital every day with conditions. we've seen everything from pr measles, chickenpox, flu, bilateral pneumonia, congenital conditions. challenges medically of the folks arriving. >> i know you're waiting on the final report from inspector general, but assuming these -- this 7 and 8-year-old children, jacqueline and felipe, had suffereded from efromexposure, from physical abuse, perhaps they were ill with some infectious disease. is it your fault if they happen to die in your custody? >> i believe our agents did everything they could to help
these children. >> wouldn't they more likely be alive today if they had not made that trip in the first place? >> it's speculative, senator, but, yes, more likely. >> what role does deterrence play in discouraging people from making that long, dangerous, journey in the first place? >> yeah, in our experience, if there are no consequences for violation of a law, it's going to continue to increasingly be violated. so for crossing our border illegally, in the past when we've been able to successfully detain and repatriate individuals, we've seen numbers drop dramatically. as we did in the 2014 crisis with families and children. when secretary johnson created family residential centers and was able to detain families and repatriate them after a safe and expeditious immigration proceeding, the numbers dropped immediately and for some time before the flores court ruled that families could not be held that way. >> haven't we seen from our
experience dealing with the flow of migrants across the borders that catch and release is an incentive for people to come, not a deterrent? >> unequivocally, unquestionably, yes. >> and i recall secretary chertof talking about the brazilians that showed up at our border until we eliminated catch and release. jaungs under republican and democrat administrations, we found when you release the migrant at the border, they're successfully able to make it into the united states, that's a consistent pull factor to encourage more illegal immigration, more millions of dollars earned by the criminal organizations. >> no question. >> so right now, the cartels are winning, and because as the chairman pointed out, if 98% of the people who are put with sponsors in the united states
and told to come back for your court hearing some time in the future, they don't come back. i think it's really an i.q. test, isn't it? the ones that come back i think flunked the i.q. test, it seems to me. but in all seriousness, you said now, we don't even -- we don't even necessarily place these family units with sponsors or detain them. they're either released to nongovernmental organizations or they're sent to the bus station, transportation hubs? >> so i.c.e. does not have adequate capacity in family residential centers for the current flow, so they do still try to identify sponsors and use alternatives to detention where appropriate, but that's correct, senator, the majority of families arriving are released within days by an i.c.e. agent -- i.c.e. ero officer from cbp custody direct to a nongovernmental organization, a charity or a transportation hub. that's correct. >> so due to the volume of people coming across the border
exploiting our laws, rather than securing our border and preventing illegal immigration, our law enforcement agencies are basically left with no alternative other than to wave people on through? >> court orders and the current legal framework prevent us from enforcing the law effectively, that's correct. >> how many pending court cases are there for asylum claims in america today, do you know? >> i don't have that exact number. department of justice cites statistics of over 800,000 people -- >> 800,000? >> -- in the court backlog. >> 800,000? >> that's all types of cases including asylum. >> what's the likelihood of being able to work our way through that 800,000 case backlog in order to give those asylum seekers an opportunity to present their claims in front of an immigration judge? >> yeah, we're seeing initial hearings set two to five years out from apprehension depending on the jurisdiction. we're talking about people that are going to live with uncertainty. the ones that follow the rules
and show up for hearings aren't going to get an immigration court assault. valid meritorious asylum claims aren't going have certainty to plan a future in the u.s. the folks that don't have valid claims that are economic migrants exploiting the vulnerabilities in the framework are going to be here indefinitely. >> and if you don't show up for your court hearing but simply melt into the great american landscape, chances are you're going to get away with it unless you commit some crime and happen to run into law enforcement, correct? >> that's correct. >> thank you. >> commissioner mcaleenan, it's good to see you begin. i want to say at outset, i respect this critical work when it comes to boarder security. that's why i'm somewhat reluctant feel i have to ask at the outset what your position was when it came to the zero tolerance policy.
that policy which was announced last year by the attorney general and members of the trump administration resulted in the forcible separation of 2,800 children from their parents, the detention -- i should say the holding of these children someti sometimes, most the time in hhs facilities for some period, and then a fruitless effort to reunite the children with their parents, which ultimately resulted in a court order in san diego, california, by a federal judge. the net result of it was months and months after the separation, most of the children were reunited, i think, ultimately 150 or so were not. you gave approval to that policy, did you not? >> so the zero tolerance initiative, senator, was a prosecution initiative to hold adults accountable for violation of law, whether they crossed solo as single adults or brought children with them. the end to catch and release executive order that came out on april 6th combined with the
attorney general's policy on zero tolerance for immigration violations, cbp is responsible for implementing both of those and during that implementation, we did prosecute adults that crossed with children. in fact, they were the fourth out of five priorities that we sent out to the field for increasing prosecutions. only about 15% of parents that crossed with children during that timeframe were prosecuted. >> i'm really getting down to the separation of children. i have in my hand the memorandum which was sent to the secretary from your office, and here's the sentence, it reads, "dhs could also permissibly direct the separation of parents or legal guardians and minors held in immigration detention so that the parent or legal guardian can be prosecuted." so the separation of children was envisioned in your memo giving approval to this zero tolerance policy. we have asked the inspector general of hhs to take a look at the results of this. the impact on children. you have acknowledged separating
infants and toddlers and children from their parents has a negative impact on these kids. what the inspector general came back, to our surprise, and reported, in the year before the announcement of this policy, in their words, thousands of children had been separated from their parents as well. can you tell me how many were separated before the announcement of the zero tolerance policy? >> you race e raised three impo issues. i'd looic ike to address all th. first, the quote you cited talks about the policy of administrative separation. this would be anyone arriving at a family at the border who doesn't have a valid immigration status. could be prosecuted or separated administrat administratively. no secretary of homeland security has pursued that policy. secretary johnson didn't pursue it. secretary kelly didn't pursue it. secretary nielsen didn't pursue it. that would be family separation. no one has done that. that would have meant during the zero tolerance period may 5th to
june 20th that over 15,000 families were separated. >> do you dispute 2,800 children were forcingly separated from their children by the zero tolerance policy? >> you're asking a separate question, again, senator, i want to finish answering your first three and we can jump to that if you'd like. >> well, i'd like you to try to answer them quickly. i have a limited amount of time. >> we had 161,000 families arrive at our border last year. if way had administrative family separation policy, all of them would have been separated. so that's a very different issue. you referenced the hhs claim that ig statement that thousands of families could have been separated. we have no evidence for that whatsoever. >> none. >> before and after zero tolerance, we had the same policy ties in place for any necessary separation for the safety of the child. >> how can you -- >> one per day. >> san diego court found 2,800 -- are you disputing the 2,800 -- >> i'm not ignoring that. >> -- children were forcibly separated from their parents? >> that's the third question, senator. the court order directed hhs to go back without time parameters and find children who may have been separated in the process.
hhs did that with a very broad set of parameters including interviewing -- >> how many did they find? >> you have the court orders and responses from the government to those. that's 2,800. that is not the number that cbp separated for the prosecution from the parent during the may -- that's a different number. >> i'm going to bow to your definition, whatever it may be, but the fact is the fact. that judge was demanding that the federal government of the united states and the trump administration account for 2,800 kids. where they were and how they could possibly be reunited with their parents. so we can talk about under what law they did it, but thank goodness the president decided to reverse his position publicly after a few weeks of criticism on this approach. now, let's talk about the word, "deterrence" because i think that gets to the heart of what we're talking about here. our hearts go out to the families who lost these two children and others that suffered as a result of their decision. their desperate decision to come to the united states rather than continue to live in these three countries. but if we are going to construct a policy of deterrence that
involves using children, we're going to have outcomes just as we did with zero tolerance policy. the notion of eliminating flores which has been suggested over and over again by this administration will give no protection from children coming to this border from being caged after a period of time or being pushed back across the border. do you believe that is consistent with the values of the united states? >> so no one in my understanding from the administration has proposed eliminating flores. flores is a broad settlement that covers treatment of children in federal custody, federal immigration custody. no one thinks those conditions should be rolled back. those conditions are very important. the piece of flores that needs to be overcome so we have an immigration system with integrity is the ability to z detain families together. so they can finish an immigration proceeding or either get asylum or if they're not meritorious claims to be repatria repatriated. that's the part that's being requested to be adjusted. >> let me just -- i only have 30 seconds left.
let me say thank you for your opening statement and acknowledging that just dealing with our laws and border procedure is an important part of this conversation but not nearly the whole conversation. we have to ask the fundamental question of why these three countries are generating so many people coming to the united states and what can be done about it. and that involves serious questions about firearms. i said incorrectly earlier that there were 70% of the firearms that were confiscated came from the united states. that was in a mexican raid. but i believe the same may be true as well for these three countries. what i know we're doing little or nothing when it comes to monitoring the outflow of these firearms from the united states to make these cartels even more powerful in these countries. but i hope that this administration will re-establish programs that the obama administration had where young people and teheir families can apply for the status in country without making the dangerous four or five-day journey.
the trump administration e li eliminated that. now the only alternative if you seek asylum is to present yourself and wait through the metered acceptance at the ports of entry, which has created a backlog and problems. my time has expired but i hope we can do as the chairman has suggested a balanced approach that takes into account all of the elements. >> before senator hawley, do you in hindsight, was the zero policy decision a bad decision? >> so, mr. chairman, i think i've said before and senator klobuchar asked me a good question on this in december, well-intended enforcement efforts if they lose the public trust are not sustainable. >> are you glad it was changed? >> i think the president in the executive order made the right decision to reach out, but we have seen unmitigated increases in family units since. >> thank you. senator hawley. >> thank you, mr. chairman. thank you, ranking member. commissioner, thank you for gg here today.
i want to talk about two pay spect aspects of the crisis on the border of particular concern to missourians. the if pifirst is drug smugglin. a federal judge sentenced a major drug dealer in my state, michael nevitt, to 38 years in prison for distributing over $1 million in meth throughout southwest missouri all of which came from mexico. other law enforcement officers in missouri are struggling with the same thing. i know because i talk to sheriffs all the time. for instance, just last december, officers in missouri arrested one individual who had five pounds of methamphetamine, $10,000 in cash, and 8 handguns. and local law enforcement are regularly finding now in our state, in my state, drug dealers who are carrying large amounts of high-purity meth which comes from mexico. i don't think most people realize in missouri, the meth problem we have in my state. it's a growing problem.
it's not domestic meth. it's not made in the state. it's not made in the united states. it's made across the border and moved across the border. tell me about the kinds of drugs c cbp has seized in the last year and the amount of these drugs. >> absolutely, senator. we're 100% committed to the counternarcotics efforts across our operations and to address these scourges that are affe affectiaffec affecting your communities in missouri and across the country. methamphetamine has been the biggest challenges. especially synthetics like fentanyl has been getting a tremendous amount of attention and something we're working very hard on. . on the methamphetamine side, we had 667,000 pounds seized last year. absolute record. up from 23,000 pounds in 2014 and it's been growing exponentially year over year. it's absolutely driven by mexican cartels, manufacturing meth in industrial quantities, replacing their profit loss from marijuana in the last decade or so and, of course, it's just been devastating to communities across the country.
i will note that the investment that senator durbin and others supported for nonintrusive inspection technology in the fy '19 bill is going to make a big impact at our ports of entry. we're going to be able to dramatically increase the number of vehicles that are getting scanned as they come into the country, which is how these meth shipments are entering. small packages secreted in quarterpanels and gas tanks and spare tires, as these hundreds of thousands of cars come across our border. we're going to get better at it. and we're excited about applying those investments. we also need to make sure that cartels don't switch to bringing them between ports of entry like they did with marijuana back two decades ago. so we are absolutely committed to this fight and know that the meth issues affecting missouri and other states are just dramatic. >> you mentioned fentanyl. are seizures of fentanyl up as well? tell us something about that. >> in 2012, 2013, it was unheard of. last year, we interdicted 2,173 pounds of fentanyl and if you
think about the purity and the, you know, potency of that narcotic, that's just devastating. that's the potential to cause, you know, tens of thousands of overdoses. we're seeing that both at our southern border but at and between ports of entry but also in mail and express consignment facilities. so we've just launched a challenge, $1.5 million challenge along with ondcp and science and technology to develop screening systems that can bring as these small parcels and amazon shipments and all of our e-commerce come into the mail facilities, we can try to identify opioids without opening every single package. so we're working very diligently on these very efforts. >> you know, as somebody who has sat with parents who have lost children to fentanyl overdoses, who have lost husbands to meth overdoses, wives, i think it's a crisis. i think the surge in drug smuggling across the border is an emergency. do you think that this situation is a crisis an ad emergency on r
southern border? >> no question. we've heard a lot of dialogue about the seizures happening at ports of entry. that's absolutely correct. we're very concerned, though, about what we're not catching between ports of entry. this fiscal year to date, the percentage of seizures has gone up from 15% on average over the past years to interdi interdicted by border this is a serious issue affecting the whole border and not one vector entering the country. >> let me ask you about human trafficking. we're seeing in my state, of course, right in the middle of the country, we're seeing a significant spike in the problems with human trafficking and trafficking cartels and individuals being moved into the state, through the state to other parts of the united states. i saw this firsthand as attorney general. tell me a little bit about what you're seeing on the border.
in fiscal year 2018, cbp makes almost 400,000 apprehensions. out of that, family units, over 100,000. children traveling alone, uncompanied children, over 50,000. are these family units or alleged family units and children, are they mostly just coming here of their own accord making the journey alone or are many of them actually being trafficked and aided by traffickers? >> so we make a distinguish -- distinction, senator, between human smuggling and human trafficking. you can't make an individual decision to arrive at our border and cross illegally. the cartels control that access. they charge for it. that's a very risky approach. so just about everyone who crosses our border illegally is smuggle smuggled by some sort of transnational criminal organization or subsidiary. we also, though, see within that flow challenges with human trafficking, with women and girls, in particular, that are specifically brought to the u.s. for exploitation or servitude,
and that's something we also focus on very closely with our partners at homeland security investigations and the interagency team that's addressing those threats. >> could you just -- i think you just said something that's really extraordinary. you just said that individuals of families do not make -- cannot make a decision on their own. just to cross the border. that access is controlled by cartels. can you just elaborate on that? >> that's absolutely correct. just south of rio grande valley, towns in mexico, there is a pitched battle ongoing between elements of the gulf cartel and losetes that have broken up to control every yard of access to that river. it's $500 charge just to step in the river. so you don't have to own a whole smuggling cycle from guatemala, if you control the last foot to the river, you can charge $500 per person, renewable resource that comes through that area. so the murder rate in those cities along the border has skyrocketed over the last two years. and it's a dramatic violence
issue for our friends to the south. >> you know, and would you say, given these cartels, for them, the thousands, hundreds of thousands of women and children, in particular, who they smuggle across the border, they're not concerned about their welfare. they're profits for these cartels. this is a money-making enterprise. is that right? >> no question. "associated press" has reported that at least 1,000 people are dying each year in the journey within mexico and they acknowledge in their own report that the numbers are probably much higher. that's where they can validate the types of numbers we're seeing. we see as they cross our border 300 to 400 a year on average are dying during the journey and, of course, we do 4,300 rescues last year as well. so it's an extraordinarily dangerous and violent cycle. >> this sounds like a crisis to me, an emergency to me. would you agree with that? >> it's absolutely a crisis. >> thank you, mr. chairman.
>> thaurnk you, mr. chairman, a commissioner, thank you. i appreciate the extent to which you made yourself available to myself and my staff. on february 5th, 2019, nearly 2,000 migrants arrived on the other side of the border of eagle pass, texas. despite an increased presence of cbp agents. on t only about 20 migrants were being processed at the port of entry each day. instead, cbp agents along with u.s. soldiers and texas state troopers closed off that port of entry leaving families trying to apply for asylum in the u.s. to attempt to cross the rio grande river. which you jufd descrist describ colleague as a really dangerous area controlled by cartels with high cost and high risk. that dangerous journey across the river has resulted in at least one death and the endangerment of families attempting to enter the country. during the last two years, you and other cbp officials have said that the agency can't immediately process all the migrants who arrive at port of
entries across, along the u.s./mexico border. the growing wait times for people who have reached the border including asylum seekers in particular, are well documented. and so cbp has been aware of this issue for a long time. i've gone down, myself, as you know, crossed into mexico around midnight one night, tried to come over and saw with my own eyes how people are being turned around and was told, myself, as an individual not to go into mexico because it would be too dangerous for me to walk there, yet people are either made to wait on those bridges or sent back. women and children sent back into that environment. and so my first question is, what specific steps have been taken to facilitate those that are seeking asylum so they're not put into a situation that i was told as a single adult male not to go into or pushing them into the environment that you told senator hawley was so dangerous and so perilous? >> so, thank you, senator, and
thank you for going down to the border and seeing our situation, meeting with our men and women. i think that's critical for members that are working on these challenging issues. so in my opening statement, i talked a little bit about our efforts to provide safe and lawful access to asylum seekers. 120% increase last year. record level. 38,000. this year, we're already up 90% over last year. on pace for well over 65,000 asylum seekers at ports of entry. we do have areas where we do have queues. tijuana, in particular, a big shelter network where a lot of migrants arrive -- >> my time it so limited, but that eagle pass crossing, 20 migrants a day. you're telling me that that's the capacity, how are you, knowing this is a crisis, i guess do you agree, essentially closing off access, choking it like to ports of entry actually incentivizes people to do illegal crossings that also drain your resources then and are extraordinarily dangerous to children and families? >> respecting the short time,
our capacity is a function of three things. actual space in the port, other missions that we have to conduct including the counternarcotics mission we were just talking about and the system capacity. we need i.c.e. to be able to come pick people up or can't in good conscience bring them into the port of entry and that capacity is limited all across the border. eagle pass, the government of mexico worked to provide shelter capacity and then offer both residency, work, and then transportation to other areas where we had additional capacity to process that very large -- >> by not putting more resources at the asylum point, you're actually creating a need for more resources on the illegal crossings. and it would be respectful to the human dignity of people who are trying to follow our laws by turning them away, they end up doing something that's dangerous to them. dangerous to their children. people have died. and then add more strain on your resources. isn't this an issue of appropriately applying resources that can affirm human dignity,
that can keep them safe as well as keep your officers from having more extreme need of their time and resources and american taxpayer dollars at illegal crossings? >> increasing legal access is absolutely essential. it's something the secretary's prioritized and we have delivered on. again, with 1100% increases 2 years in a row, that will continue to be a priority to us. >> you're saying to me when they're pushed back into an area that i was told was extraordinarily dangerous, that they're not incentivized then to do illegal crossings? i heard that directly from individuals who had tried to cross our border legally by presenting themselves for asylum that the danger was too great, and it pushed them to do illegal crossings. are you saying that's not happening? >> for the vast majority of arrivals, they're entering the smuggling cycle with a transnational criminal organization from their home country. they don't have a choice in how they're going to arrive. they're brought into stashhouses. >> i'm talking about
specifically the people who are turned away at ports of entry like i saw with my own eyes. you're telling me those people are not filtering into illegal crossings? >> other than the caravan that arrived in tijuana in october-november timeframe, we see most people waiting because we don't have a long wait other tan three ports of entry along the border. >> what's not a long wait to you? >> we're talking 24 to 72 hours. most ports of entry every day, there's no limit line operation, no waiting at all. >> well, again, i'd like to discuss that with you when i have more time because that's not what i heard directly from individuals in terms of wait times and, again, the danger of them in those surrounding areas. these individuals, we know, face significant harm, as i was told, myself. have you explored alternative detentions, parole fond, telephonic monitoring, gps monitoring, to allow the asylum seekers to come to the united states to be processed, which we know from the limited experiments that have been done,
has 90%-plus percentage rates of people then coming back. have we explored using resources to do that which would allow you to take more people legally presenting themselves for asylum and create a system that works and affirms our values better? >> so i know i.c.e. uses all these techniques and has explored others and i would defer to them to characterize the efficiency and effectiveness. >> commissioner, the conditions of confinement for young children is something that concerns me. your agency, we've seen two migrant youths that have been mentioned already died in cbp custody this past december, underscoring the dangers of vulnerable children. when they're incarcerated in the facilities. i understand you announced a series of policy changes to improve medical screening for migrant children. but what is the cbp doing to ensure that children are not being put in danger? and i don't even know if you're aware of the concerns of the american academy of pediatrics brought forward regarding the border patrol building
facilities. what steps are you taking given the data, the research, the harm that this -- the irreparable harm professionals are saying are being caused by the detention facilities as they exist now? >> i've acknowledged to this committee and stated publicly a number of times that border patrol stations are not good places for families and children. and so one of the things we asked for and did receive in the fiscal year '19 budget was additional funding to create a central processi ining center i paso. so we don't have to bring families and children into a border patrol station, a law enforcement custody situation, have them in a more appropriate area for their care. additionally, i have talked to dr. kraft of the aap. her team has helped inform the development of our medical directive and our understanding o some of the concerns and considerations and we're going to continue that engagement with her and her family. >> thank you. mr. chairman, my team has expired. thank you, sir. >> thank you, mr. chairman. and thank you, commissioner, for being here. you said you've been in this business for about 17 years?
>> yeah, motivated to serve after 9/11, u.s. customs service at that time. >> so i think either in your opening statement or in response to one of the questions, did i hear you right in saying that i fewer than 20% on average of the asylum claims are ultimately adjudicated to be legitimate? >> those are the stats i have from the immigration office of review, yes. >> so would it be a false narrative to say that the vast majority of people crossing the border illegally are fleeing from -- what we have as a standard of asylum here, fleeing from a legitimate threat to their lives? >> according to the court results, they're not meeting the asylum standard. >> have you heard anything from anybody in congress who says the standard for asylum should be changed? in your view, do you think the standard for asylum in this country is reasonable? >> yes, consistent with international law and appropriate standards. >> do you think, if people thought that they were going to come back and know that there is a four out of five chance that
once they come back and respond to court that they're going to be doomed as not having a legal right to asylum that they're going to come back? >> probably not. >> so the electronic monitoring and everything makes sense for maybe the first appearance. but it seems highly unlikely to me that it makes sense in the long-term, when you know that nearly 80% of the people who are crossing the border are putting their children at risk, and children are dying, and they don't have a legitimate claim, based on the standards we have in this country. is that a fair assessment? >> that's a fair assessment. >> so i'm actually offended by the concept that 100% of the people who are crossing the border, the parents who are allowing kids to die -- over 280 -- almost 300 people died last year, some were children. it's horrible what happened to the two children in detention. but they're dying in hundreds every year, men, women,
children, on our side of the border. not to mention the thousands who never get here. because parents have decided -- or they have been sold down the road by human traffickers and smugglers that you've got an easy pass once you cross the border. just bring your kids and put them at risk. and when i feel like we've -- if we want to have a discussion about whether or not the asylum standard needs to be changed, great. but is that number -- the 80% asylum, has that been pretty much steady over the course of your career? >> so this is something i've been tracking in the last six years in the front office of cvp with our partners at the immigration courts. and my understanding is it's under 20% for all three countries. >> so i completely reject the notion, based on the data, based on adjudicated cases with the gold standard of a judicial system in the united states. i reject the notion and the narrative that people are trying to create here that the vast majority of these are leaving their countries because there's a legitimate threat of their
life and they have the opportunity to seek asylum in the united states. it's simply not true. and what these parents are doing are exposing these children to the risk of death, trafficking and unspeakable harm. i hear what the doctors are saying about child separation here. what the parents should hear is about 80% of them should never expose those children to all of the other horrible things occurring before they ever cross this border. and i think we have to have a serious discussion about that and call it for what it is. look, i've requested the number of deaths over the past couple of years, specifically looking at the number of children. i've looked at the number of rescues. you see, we're talking about deaths. take a look at all the injuries that happen. when you have a coyote all of a sudden drive a truck through a desert and wrecked and have people maimed for life, it's happening virtually every day. and for us not to think that's a crisis, i think is disingenuous. i think it was senator durbin
who said when you were asked if you had a blank check, what would you pay for? and he said people and technology. did you intentionally omit infrastructure? and in other words barriers? >> i'm glad you asked that, senator. that was a very good conversation we had in october of '17. senator durbin's question was in the context of what you need for stopping elicit drugs coming across our border. >> right, okay. so now if we talk about future -- i think senator graham is dead right. if we don't -- >> i remember it clearly. >> if we don't figure out a way to reduce future flows by making it so easy to get across this border and so easy to just go into the countryside, then we are aiding and abetting the deaths of a lot of people and the harm of a lot of children. and we need to recognize that we've got to change the laws, to be respectful, to give legitimate claims of asylum an opportunity to be adjudicated. but unless we make a change, we are sending the very clear signal that thousands or more
children are going to be traumatized, hundreds of thousands of people are going to be trafficked. thousands of people are going to die every year, because of congress' inaction on actually giving you the legal flexibility you need to adjudicate legitimate asylum claims, but recognize the vast majority of what you're doing with every single day has nothing to do with the legitimate claim for asylum in this country. >> that's correct. >> if somebody wants to change the standard, i'd love to see a proposal here for changing the standard for what is a legitimate asylum claim. i don't hear anybody talking about that. so let's put that down there and have a debate about that. the other thing that i think is very important is i believe and i support the nonintrusive technology at the border. but you know exactly what's going to happen. if we put that there and we become impenetrable and get up to 90% inspection, you know exactly what's going to happen. those borders -- they're going to come across the borders
exactly the way they did when they were smuggling pot across the borders and it's going to continue the flow. and so i think that if we don't recognize people, technology and infrastructure, walls where they make sense, barriers where they make sense, technology, all-weather roads, all the things that border patrol has been telling us for years, all the things that were in the packages we had last year, $25 billion, trying to get people, technology and infrastructure, we're responsible for the loss of life. we're responsible incidentally for the loss of life of border patrol agents, because we're not acting on what they recommended as necessary to protect them and to protect our homeland. but i hope these folks here will recognize, 80% of the problem can be avoided if we can simply tell the families who are putting these children at risk, do it the right way. come to this country, based on our lives. don't put your children and your family at risk, and don't expose
them to the horrors through the cartels at the southern border. i appreciate your service. >> thank you. >> i just want to clarify something. see if i've got this right. 21% of the drugs are coming across nonwork entry, is that right? >> seizures by the u.s. border patrol -- >> so to fight the drug problem, you need the technology and stuff that senator durbin was talking about, is that right? >> we need technology at the ports and barrier technology and agents. >> barriers. 87% of the people coming here legally come across nonports of entry, right? >> correct. >> okay, thank you. senator hirono -- harris, i'm sorry. i apologize. >> thank you, mr. chairman. commissioner mcaleenan, would you agree that the vast majority of parents, wherever they are born, have a natural desire to protect their children, whatever it takes? >> certainly.
>> okay. in january, the department of defense extended the deployment of active duty troops for an additional eight months in response to a dhs request, despite multiple requests from my office of dod and dhs, we have not received an intelligence-based assessment demonstrating a national security threat to our southern border. were you involved in developing the assessment and the threat assessment that dhs provided to dod to justify the deployment of these troops? >> so the specific request for assistance made to dod for the operational support they're providing, they are generated by cvp and are operational -- >> were you involved in the assessment? >> i would approve those requests, correct. >> and do you have a copy of your assessment that contributed to the decision to send more troops to the border? >> i would be happy to give you our request for assistance and explain the rationale. >> can you do that by the end of next week? >> sure. >> thank you. last week, the justice department reported that the
office of refugee resettlement received 4,556 allegations of sexual abuse or harassment of immigrant children in their custody between october of 2014 and july of 2018. 178 of these allegations were against staff of shelters were the children were placed, including fondeling and kissing and watching them shower and rape. justice department data shows at the peak of the family separation crisis last spring and summer, sexual abuse allegations in shelters skyrocketed. obviously, this is unacceptable. it's abhorrent and we should all be very deeply concerned. so i understand that hhs personnel, of course, do not fall under your direct authority. but your agency is nonetheless handing over these children to hhs. so my question is, were you aware of these reports of sexual abuse? >> i did see the recent reports. obviously, something we take very seriously in our own
custody. >> were you aware of the reports before it was published last week? >> no, i was not. >> you had no sense that this was going on? >> certainly not aware of those numbers or that level of information. >> were you aware of any allegations that while the children you handed over to orr, that they had been abused? >> no, actually, i was not aware of any specific allegations that i can recall. in my experience, hhs and orr professionals do a very good job of protecting children as they place them with sponsors. >> do you have any concern that now that you know that over 4,000 allegations occurred within four years that perhaps that's not the case? >> i defer to my colleagues at hhs to answer that question. >> and moving forward, what can you do to ensure that the children that you transfer to orr will be safe? now that you do know this information? >> so i believe that's a better question for hhs, and
secretary -- assistant secretary azar or johnson. >> do you believe you have any duty or your agency has any duty to ensure when you transfer these children to the custody of another agency they will be safe? >> i am mandated by law to transfer these children. i don't have an ability to question that. >> so you don't believe that you have a duty to determine that upon transfer of these children they will be safe? >> ai'm required by statute to transfer these children to hhs within 72 hours. >> do you believe that you have any duty to raise a flag of concern that when you transfer these children to another agency that they may not be safe? >> i believe that's the duty of the management and leadership of health and human services, their inspector general or the white house. not -- or congress. not mine. >> okay. the "new york times" recently published a report that there was an investigation into
incidents of sexual violence along the southern border over the past two decades. the investigation found that there were 100 documented cases of immigrant women being sexually assaulted along the border. often after they had reached the united states. according to the report, at least five of these women were assaulted by on-duty cvp officers. has cvp conducted an investigation into these alleged sexual assaults. >> yes. >> and what is the result of the investigations? >> we could bring you a briefing on each case that we've explored. obviously, the dhs ig or sometimes state and local law enforcement will have the lead of those investigations. but i can tell you that it's unacceptable in any degree in our ranks and needs to be followed up on and held accountable. and those five cases are very concerning. >> can you please give my office the result of those investigations by the end of next week. >> sure. >> were any of those cases referred for criminal prosecution? >> i believe several of them were, yes. >> and what, if any, duty does
cvp have -- in particular cvp personnel. what if any duty do they have to report any suspicions they may have of sexual abuse being committed by their colleagues? >> it's mandatory by policy. >> can you give me a copy of that policy, please? >> yes. >> legal declarations filed on behalf of immigrant children described freezing temperatures, limited access to food and water and verbal and physical assault at cvp facilities. my staff visited the el centro border patrol station in january and officials there told them there is a policy of taking away all toys from children, and that that happens upon their arrival, which means, of course, that when the children are in custody at this station, they have no access to toys, books or any other means of mental stimulation. is this policy unique to el centro or is this happening in other facilities, as well? >> so all of our policies are nationally consistent. we have what's called the
transportation escort detention standards that is overseen by our own internal office of professional responsibility, but also the inspector general, civil rights and civil liberty -- >> so is it the policy of every station then to remove toys and books and other -- toys from the children when they arrive? and if so, are you then replacing them with other books and toys and things of that nature? >> so we're trying to provide the most appropriate custodial setting for the brief period that children are with us. and it's got to be safe. that's the primary consideration. >> do you believe that the children having toys would create an unsafe condition? >> it depends on the toys. >> it depends on the toys. can you give examples of toys that would create an unsafe condition for the children? >> sure. we could go to the consumer product safety commission website and list all the types of toys that are legal in other countries that are not allowed here that could be dangerous to children if they arrive with them. but that's something we need to do carefully. >> i have no further questions, thank you.
>> thank you. commissioner mcaleenan, thank you so much for appearing in front of us today. i think this has been a very beneficial discussion for everyone on this committee, and i do hope that we have others that are able to watch your testimony and some of the answers to these questions. i believe we have a crisis at our southern border. i think it's hard for anyone to argue when you see sexual assaults happening on the trek to our southern border, when we have children that are dying, when we have coyotes using any possible means to get people across our border. how can you argue there's not a crisis? there is a crisis here, folks. we have a humanitarian crisis at our border, and we need to figure this out. a lot of people would argue that iowa is pretty far from the border, and that maybe we shouldn't be interested at all in this. but i would say that what we
have going on at that southern border, it does affect every single one of our states. it's about national security, it's about the drugs. it's about the human trafficking. and, you know, this is a little surprising to me, but in 2016, for instance, des moines, iowa -- des moines, iowa, was identified as one of the country's top 100 human trafficking locations. top 100, folks. des moines, iowa. so this does affect all of us. i can talk about the methamphetamine problem that we have in iowa affecting residents in my own home community. meth is the number one drug of choice in iowa. not opioids. it's methamphetamine. and my law enforcement officials tell me that most of that meth is coming from mexico. how is it coming in, if it's avoiding ports of entry?
how is it coming in? >> right. >> it's coming over the rat trails. we call them rat trails in the military. they're rat trails coming up into the united states. and i am really concerned about it. so you've provided some great statistics for us and i do appreciate that. fiscal year 2018, nearly 400,000 people were apprehended at the southwest border, and out of that, nearly 50,000 were unaccompanied children. and there's been a lot of discussion about that today. these are children that are here alone. here's my concern. okay? our immigration laws or lack of immigration laws encourage family units and those unaccompanied children to make the journey from central america to the united states. our laws are encouraging this dangerous journey, as we have stated. people are assaulted along the way. people die along the way.
and we also, through our laws, we encourage the use of children as pawns. >> uh-huh. >> that's what they're being used as. pawns. on this journey. and it does lead to a pattern of abuse that's almost impossible to stop under the current set of laws that we have. so commissioner, when cvp finds these children as they arrive at the border, can you just talk a little bit in your own words about the types of traumas that we are seeing as they arrive at the border? we've heard about some of the instances after they are in custody. but when they arrive at the border, what are we seeing there? >> we're seeing all kinds of trauma. i mean, senator tillis mentioned some of the injuries that happen, not just the deaths. but it's very dangerous. we have people traveling on freight trains, jumping off and breaking ankles and coming across severely injured as they arrive on the u.s. side. the conditions that we have seen
for children, congenital issues, where doctors have advised this child needs surgery within two weeks to repair this and they get on a bus to head to the u.s. border and report that to the agent as they arrive. we have seen all manner of medical conditions, you know, in the emergency side in the last two months. we get daily reports on this. 55 hospital trips. one day last week, we did 130 hospital trips. >> wow. >> that means that we spent 60,000 hours of border patrol agents waiting at the hospital with people getting care. that's like losing 30 agents for the year. so it's a huge investment to try to take care of folks arriving. and it's -- they're arriving very sick, and they're injured in the journey. the sexual assault problem is just terrifying. i mean, the doctors without borders clinics in mexico, 30% of the women that come into those clinics have been sexually assaulted. >> you said 30%? >> yes. i mean, that's a devastating number. we have women report every
day -- last week, we had a woman in rio grande valley report that a smuggler sexually assaulted her on the riverbank as they arrived in the u.s. we had a child say she was assaulted by her guardian the night before they crossed in mexico last week, as well. these are just devastating stories that our agents hear every day and we try to address appropriately, get them medical care, see if there is any opportunity for investigation or prosecution of that smuggler or guide. usually they've gone back south to mexico before we can intervene. so these are the kind of stories that we're hearing every day. >> and it is a very unfortunate situation, and, again, a lot of this is happening on the journey here. it's not -- you know, and we know that there are some circumstances that have happened. we have had those two deaths that are absolutely horrible and tragic. but we do have situations, these coyotes are horrible people. these are not good people helping these folks for a better
life in america. they are all about the money. and abuse. and they're part of these cartels. and so very bad. so we need to address the laws that are pulling people into this country. we need to make sure that we do have the agents available. we need to make sure we are erecting barriers where it makes sense. and we need technologies in place, as well. i agree with all of that. i would go a step further and put my hat on as a member of the armed services committee that we need to be enabling south com also to do what we can to address these issues in the countries where the root problems exist so that people don't feel that they have to go to the united states for a better life. so there's a lot of issues at stake here. i appreciate that you are in the position that you're in and providing us with information that we need to do our jobs to make this better. but i do think we have a crisis. let's figure it out. let's address it.
thank you. >> thank you, commissioner. thanks, mr. chairman, and thanks for having this hearing. and i want to join senator durbin in thanking you for your service and your dedication to the cause of making our treatment more humane at the border. and begin where senator ernst ended, talk about our military command, who testified before the armed services committee that there is no military threat at the border from these individuals trying to seek asylum. would you agree? >> i'm not going to question our military leaders. what i can see is a security threat that outstrips current law enforcement resources who address where the military support is critical. >> did you ask for active duty
military at the border? >> we made requests for assistance based on our operational deficits. dod decides what type of forces are most capable and ready and available to help us with that. >> did you make a request for a specific number of either active duty or national guard? >> no. we would specify functions, and needs. dod would decide how many personnel are required. >> and what functions and need did you request? >> so several. surveillance is a critical issue. we need to be able to see what's happening on that border to respond to it and interdict it effectively. the military has tremendous capability in that area. engineering to support additional security at our ports of entry, for instance, if we're going to have large groups crossing. they have that experience and capability. medical care in ex tremis to both support our agents and officers but also migrants if there is an emergency scenario
and air support. those are the four main categories. >> so essentially surveillance and medical care. >> also engineering -- civil engineering support for hardening the ports of entry. >> at ports of entry. >> yes. >> you didn't ask for military assistance to build a wall, did you. >> well, we already work with the army corps of engineers with the appropriated budget. they are our construction agent to build the wall. they're highly skilled in this. they work to identify the right u.s. companies that have the ability to provide border barrier and build it on schedule and under cost. >> they were working under existing appropriations. >> that's a natural partnership for us, yes. >> let me ask you. the remain in mexico policy, do you support that policy? >> so the section 235b 2c of the immigration nationality act allows for migrants to wait for
hearing. what it's going to allow us to do is actually increase access to court proceedings and to increase access at ports of entry to process more people. because we don't have to hold them in the limited space available at the port, or in i.c.e. facilities. >> are you aware that -- i think i'm quoting correctly -- the head of the border patrol union, brandon judd, has said that this remain in mexico policy is, quote, incentivizing illegal immigration and punishing legal immigration. >> so i believe at the time he said that, it was only being applied at the port of entry. so there was a concern that people would be crossing between ports. now it's effective in san diego sector, as well. so it's directly designed not to incentivize illegal behavior. if you cross illegally, you still have to wait in mexico for your court proceeding. >> in terms of the immigration
judge or judging process that you were asked about by senator cornyn, and you said there is a backlog of about 800,000 cases? >> correct. >> the solution there is more immigration judges, correct? >> that's certainly one of the solutions we support wholeheartedly. >> what else would you do? you need to adjudicate those cases. >> well, my experience across watching five attorneys general grapple with the situation, is that the detained docket, having someone in custody enables a fair and efficient proceeding in six to eight weeks. whereas nondetained, no matter how managed, you either have people not showing up for hearings or you can't get them through the proceedings in a reasonable amount of time. >> so those 800,000 cases backlogged are not detained
cases, right? >> the -- no. those are nondetained cases. >> so how do you clear up that backlog? >> one of the issues is more judges. one doj has implemented, prioritizing recent border entries keeping atop of the current flow and get immigration results for those who warrant asylum and for those who are coming in an economic migration and don't have a valid reason to stay in the u.s. >> so you prioritize the more recent case, but you still need more judges to adjudicate those cases that are backlogged. >> absolutely. >> do you know how many? >> i don't know that. i would defer. i know some were supported in the last budget. >> were you asked or did you recommend that the president declare a national emergency? >> so we provide the border security requirements that are unmet. as we've kind of discussed in several colloquies today. we have significant need for additional border security barrier, for surveillance capability, and for agents.
so having dod help us backfill that to create impedence and denial in certain areas is a real mission enhancement for us. >> but did you say to either secretary nielsen or president trump, there is a national emergency that should be declared at the border? >> that's not my role, senator, to interpret dod's governing statutes and requirements. but my role is to provide the secretary nielsen and the white house those border security requirements that we have and the gaps that we see. >> have you ever recommended that your superiors ask for an emergency declaration? >> i've recommended that we ask for more agents, more border security barrier and more technology. >> but that's been a continuing ask. >> correct. >> nothing about that ask constitutes saying we have a national emergency. >> well, i would offer that i believe it's becoming more
urgent as i offered in my opening statement in terms of the numbers of crossings, the illicit narcotics coming between ports of entry. >> but the illicit narcotics are coming primarily still through the ports of entry. >> that's where our seizures -- >> the numbers of border crossings are still at a historic low, compared to other times in our nation's history. >> no, senator. they're not. we're on pace for over 700,000 crossings this year. that's closer to historic highs than historic lows. >> which high? >> we had 1 million in 2006. that's the high watermark in the modern era of cvp. we're much closer to that than the 300,000 number if we get to 750,000 crossings. >> but that's only if we get to 700,000. >> i think we have to confront what's happened in these five months. four months of 60,000. 50,000 crossing illegally. last month, 76,000 in february.
we have not had a february like that in over a decade. and that was all single adults, almost all from mexico. so this is new, different and potentially worsening. >> my time has expired. thank you very much. >> here's the plan. we'll try to go to 12:30. we'll adjourn and come back at 3:15 for the second panel. i've got to go to the white house. so senator -- who is next? kennedy. we'll make sure everybody gets to ask questions. we've just got to do it in about 30 minutes. >> thank you, mr. chairman. mr. commissioner, thank you for being here. you don't impress me as being much of a politician. which i mean as a compliment. >> okay. no experience in that, sir. >> you were appointed by president trump. >> correct. >> before that, you served president obama? >> i was the senior career official during the obama administration, deputy commissioner. >> how many presidents have you served under?
>> three. >> three. okay. why do you do this job? >> i believe strongly in the mission of cvp and the men and women who carry it out. >> okay. i want to talk about how we can solve this problem. i think we both recognize that there are some important voices in this discussion that make no distinction between legal and illegal immigration. and don't believe that there should be. and this is america. you're entitled to believe that. i don't think that's what most americans believe. i think there's some other important voices in this discussion that see this as a -- as a political issue. and, again, this is america. they're entitled to try to seek
political advantage. but i want to put that point of view or that exercise aside, as well. there have been suggestions that under your watch, some of the children who have come across the border, legally or illegally, have been sexually abused by some of your people and they -- their toys have been taken away. and they have been otherwise treated inappropriately. i wanted to give you a chance to address that. >> certainly, senator. i'm not aware of an allegation of sexual abuse of a child by a cvp official. but, you know, just to continue dialogue, you know, this is something that's extraordinarily rare in our custody, that there is an incident of sexual abuse. it's generally two detainees,
and something we monitor carefully and we have policies in place to oversee and prevent and that we have accountability through our office of professional responsibility that does independent investigations if there is an incident. >> okay. >> but i just want to emphasize, senator, these are border patrol agents and officers, cvp officers that got into this line of work to protect others. they care deeply about the human challenges they see and enforcing the law. >> i know that. >> and they do a tremendous job of it. >> when these children and families come into the united states, they have to go through mexico, do they not? >> yes. >> why are they not stopped at the mexican border? >> it's complicated. mexico has increased their ability to police their southern border dramatically over the last decade. the last administration in both 2015, 2016 -- >> may i interrupt you a second? >> yes. >> just because of time constraints. let me put it another way.
could mexico stop it if it wanted to? >> as i outlined in my opening statement, partnership with the government in mexico is essential to addressing this flow and this crisis. >> okay. so mexico could do a better job. >> working with mexico is essential to -- >> mexico could do a better job on its own, could it not? >> and i believe that the new administration is working on that in terms of ensuring that any migration is safe and orderly, and that enforcement posture is improved. >> how long have we had this problem? not the immediate crisis, but of women being raped and children coming here sick and drugs being smuggled and coyotes making billions and drugs coming across. i mean, how long has this been going on? >> for decades, obviously.
>> well, you know, all of us ought to hide our heads in a bag. this is unconscionable. do we need a border wall or a barrier? and i want your honest answer. if you get fired, you can come to work for me. do we need one? >> thank you, senator. we do. we need to maintain what we have, the 654 miles, and we need hundreds of additional miles in critical areas that we have difficulty controlling that the president has requested and that congress has -- has supported. >> what would happen if we tore down the barriers and the walls that we have now? >> parts of our border would be completely ungovernable. san diego, el paso, nogales.
>> tell me specifically what laws you would ask the united states congress to change, and how you would change them to help fix this problem. >> yeah. so the top three from a border security perspective, and i know -- >> like you're talking to a tenth grader. >> okay. >> i want to make sure that everybody understands this. >> right. so right now, the biggest group that's crossing our border illegally are family units. they're doing that because they know they can be released immediately after crossing, essentially, within a few days, and be allowed to stay in the u.s. indefinitely. many of them do not have an immigration right to stay in the u.s., and at the end of the court proceeding, they would be found to be removable. >> so what change would you make? >> allow them to be held together in an appropriate setting for families and children during a six to eight-week immigration proceeding. >> and not be released into the country. >> correct. >> all right. number two. >> that's what the last administration did, and it worked. >> that's what president obama did? >> correct. >> number two.
>> number two, secondly, is this challenge with unaccompanied children being incentivized to come from central america. the trafficking victims protection reauthorization act, which we have talked about, very important statute for the care of children. that said, it treats children from mexico and canada differently. they can be repatriated, working with the mexican government, for instance, to ensure a safe situation. we can't do that for central-americans. >> repatriation. number three. >> governments want it. >> sure. >> number three, we don't need to change the standards for asylum. we need to change the process for assessing whether someone has a valid asylum claim. right now the credible fear bar is so low that over 80% of people are meeting it, while as fewer than 20% are actually warning asylum at the end of an immigration proceeding. so that 80% is just released into the u.s., pending their immigration court proceeding. that's a significant challenge. >> does this system look to you like anybody designed it on
purpose? >> there are some vulnerabilities that have emerged over time and been responded to by changing demographics in crossings. it's certainly the case. we did not see people claiming asylum up through 2013 at the border. fewer than 1% of our apprehensions claimed asylum. last year it was 30%. this year, to date, at the ports of entry, it's 60%. >> you pick the first five names out of the washington, d.c., or the new orleans, louisiana phone book, blindly, and they could develop a system better than what we have. i'm sorry. >> that's all right. senator hirono. >> i'll let you know if i need that job, senator. >> you're more than welcome. >> i'm sorry. did you call me? oh. >> we've got basically a little over 20 minutes. >> thank you very much. >> yeah, if we do five minutes, that would be great.
>> i'd like seven minutes, thank you. >> seven minutes. >> mr. mcaleenan, you said there are about 3,000 families in cvp custody every day. what percentage of these families came through the legal ports? >> they came through the legal ports less than 5%. >> so that means that the rest of them, for probably perfectly understandable reasons, because they're already at our border, they will cross illegally. subjecting them at the time to a zero tolerance policy. which, by the way, had the effect of separating families. i don't think you can deny that. so most of the families coming through -- and so the questions about, you know, why can't we provide them, as you say, one of your goals is to provide safe and lawful access to asylum seekers. and to the extent that many of these are asylum seekers, we're certainly not meeting those goals. >> so we're going to extraordinary lengths to provide safe and lawful access to asylum
seekers. again, 120% last year, 90% increase this year in applications at ports of entry. >> but not when 95% of the families are not coming through the legal ports of entry. you also said that 80% of asylum seekers don't succeed in their asylum claims. what percentage of the 80% had lawyers? >> so that would be a great question for doj and eoir. i want to clarify, senator, that the folks coming across illegally are in the hands of smugglers from very early in their journey. they're not making a decision to come to the port or not. they made a decision to pay that smuggler. so it's not -- >> oh, they're paying the smugglers not to. okay. >> yes. >> well, i don't -- >> the smugglers control where that he cross. >> i would say that for people who undergo this kind of arduous journey, and i would say that to blame the parents for risking their lives and that of their children to come to a country that they hope will provide them
with better opportunities -- to blame the parents is really an awesome kind of a statement to make. because i think we should acknowledge that parents everywhere want to protect their children. so i think we should acknowledge that. now, the 80% of asylum seekers who don't succeed, i think a majority of them do not have lawyers. because there's evidence that when they have lawyers, they increase their chances of succeeding in their asylum claims by many, many times over. sometimes five times more, three times more. many times more. so they have legitimate asylum claims, but if you don't have a lawyer and you don't speak the language, it makes it mighty tough to succeed in your asylum claim. i think that is something that we should all acknowledge. it's bad enough that when they make the arduous and dangerous journey that these migrants are subjected to sexual abuse and assault, but they certainly shouldn't have to experience those kinds of conditions while
they are totally within our custody. and so you were told that there have been thousands of allegations of sexual abuse and assault while they are in our custody. and i think you said that you didn't think that was particularly within your purview at your agency. but we know that cvp, i.c.e., hhs, doj, they all have a role to play in what happens to these migrants. so is there an integrated or coordinated response and did doesn't matter. they're within government custody. is there an interagency coordinated response with respect to just the question of sexual abuse and assault while they are in our custody. >> i can speak for cvp and dhs.
certainly protecting them from sexual abuse. it is unacceptable, overseen by our office of professional responsibility and dhs ig. in terms of inner agency approach, i would ask hhs for their approach in how they govern people in their care. >> considering that yours is the first agency that these migrants encounter, you could take a lead and asking for this kind of coordinated approach. and as for the other agencies, if they have such a -- they have policies -- i think you were asked or senator harris asked to see those policies. and if your agency has a policy, i would like to reiterate that request. >> happy to share it with you, as well, senator. and again, allegations of this nature and cvp custody are extraordinarily rare. >> i'm running out of time. let's talk about the wall. when you came before this committee last december, you told me it's your agency that developed the president's plan for the border wall with 1,100 miles of physical barriers. he wasn't talking about physical barriers. he wanted a wall.
i asked you to submit for the record a copy of the plans and provide details about how many of those 1,100 miles are on land. that is currently in approximate control of the federal government. and you did not respond to any of this committee's questions for the record. so i hope you are prepared to answer these questions today. how many of the 1,100 miles of wall are in the federal government's control? >> okay. so what we're asking for within the border security improvement plan, the top 17 priorities, about 700 miles total. about 316 of that is new, additional primary miles. on land that's not currently owned by the federal government. so that's mostly in texas in the valley in south texas. some will go into laredo, some in el paso. so those are the areas where we would need to work with property owners through a process to pay fair market value to acquire that land. >> you must be aware that the bush administration spent seven years litigating and negotiating
to build border fencing on a quarter acre of land. that's .0004 square miles. and right now the trump administration is in a lawsuit with the catholic church in texas, because the administration is looking to take the church's land to build a border wall. and the church has argued that, quote, the proposed border wall is fundamentally inconsistent with catholic values and if completed would substantially burden the free exercise of religion by restricting access to the chapel. so considering that a lot of them, maybe half, one-third of the land that you're going to need to build this wall is not even in your hands. we're looking at a pretty long period of time where if the texas ranchers don't want to give up their land, you're going to be in litigation. so did you allocate the -- any of the time and money that you would have to spend to deal with these kinds of challenges to
getting their land? >> certainly part of the cost of constructing the wall involves the real estate planning, the purchasing, engaging landowners and where we can't determine who owns the land or there is a landowner concern, litigation. just want to clarify that seven years of litigation did not delay the actual construction of the land -- of the wall. we can acquire that land and proceed with building during the litigation and the vast majority of land owners are providing rights of entry, were able to reach a fair market value settlement to pay for the land and move forward. so litigation is an important part of land acquisition. buttis but it doesn't delay the project for years. >> so are these landowners allowing you to take the land before you figure out how much you need to pay them? >> federal law does. and often it's really just trying to figure out who owns the land, is the main issue in litigation. >> thank you for that clarification. can you submit for the committee the plans and if you have the actual list of landowners who would be affected? >> so for each new segment, the landowners are researched.
yes, we can absolutely submit our plans, our process. >> when can you submit these? because i asked you this in december and here we are in march. >> we've already provided it to the senate, but i would be happy to redirect it to this committee and make sure that you have the copy. >> thank you very much. especially as i requested that information and it didn't come to me. thank you. >> thank you, senator. >> thank you, mr. chairman. >> thank you. senator blackburn, then whitehouse, senator lee is going to be kind enough to wrap it up. and you're almost at the end of the line. >> thank you, mr. chairman. >> here you go. thank you, mr. chairman. and commissioner, thank you very much for your time and for being here. and i think it's so interesting and really somewhat sad as we hear from you and other members how the cartels have really become global businesses. and your comments about this process that is decades old. i served in the house before i came over here, and my first year in the house, 2003, one of
the things we were focusing on was trying to deal with illegal immigration. it just goes to show that if you let a problem get out of control, if you don't get it in its infancy and it grows to be something bigger, it is more difficult to handle. and this is a good example of that. let me ask you this. when we talk about these cartels and being such big business and, of course, they work with these coyotes, they develop these worldwide smuggling networks. should we be holding mexico -- these cartels, from what i understand, they're primarily headquartered, if you will, in mexico. should we be holding mexico responsible for charging, investigating and prosecuting these cartels? >> no question that we have shared responsibility on this.
members of this administration have acknowledged that our drug demand is driving the profits that are empowering these cartels and creating the violent situation in mexico, as well. but we need the government of mexico to step up and address the enforcement side of this, especially as they're taking advantage and preying on vulnerable migrants. >> do you find it necessary, or do you all -- and i know you share this responsibility with other agencies. do you have the tools necessary to put the pressure on there? >> so we have developed a very robust and sophisticated counter network capability to attack the organizations, not just addressing the individual smuggling attempt. >> let me ask you this. are you all doing anything, addressing the human trafficking taking place online with the movement of games and labor trafficking and sex trafficking? so are you all working in the virtual space, as well as on the ground? >> our partners at homeland security investigations at
i.c.e. have that direct expertise. but we absolutely collaborate with them and then follow up on targets. >> okay. i will have to tell you, i hope every member, and i would imagine every member of this committee has been to one of the reception centers. and one of the things -- i've done a lot of work on the sex trafficking issues. one of the things that just was so incredibly sad to me was to talk with the case worker and hear about the abuse these children encounter as they are moving from their home country into the u.s. and the fact that they have to give every female child who is 10 years of age and over a pregnancy test. i just -- to me, that is just devastating. let me ask you this. on any given day, how many
different nationalities would you have? >> on any given day, dozens. over the course of a year, usually we interact with 130 to 150 different nationalities on the border. >> okay. >> and if we talk about our lawful crossings, pretty much every country in the world will end up traveling to and from the u.s. >> another thing i found out from the case workers in one of my visits was how they take advantage of the -- how those that are moving children in take advantage of the loopholes in verification. and they can't ask if somebody is here legally or not when they are picking up a child. and i know that last april you all entered into an agreement with i.c.e. and hhs. >> right. >> to share that information. is that working? is it helpful? >> so, yeah. that agreement i deferred to i.c.e., because they had the primary enforcement responsibility in that partnership with hhs.
from my perspective, anything that brings additional integrity to this system that ensures that children are safe when they're delivered to a sponsor is important and worthy. >> okay. i've got a couple of other questions. in the interest of time, i've got a couple of things on the drug trade, and some of the fentanyl that's been moved into the country. but i'm going to submit that and submit another one on the rescue efforts that you all carry out. >> right. >> every week to save people that are coming to the border. and thank you for your service, and i yield back my time. >> thank you, senator. >> mr. whitehouse. >> thank you very much, chairman. welcome, commissioner mcaleenan. i appreciate you being here. i'd like to explore something that you said i think both to the press and to congress about the importance of -- and i'm using your words here, solving the issues in our legal
framework that are inviting these families and children to make this dangerous journey. and i have to say, i'm worried about the notion of inviting. it strikes me that many of the individuals and families that are presenting themselves at our southern border are fleeing extraordinarily dangerous and deplorable conditions at home. would you agree with that? >> i think that poverty, food insecurity, are the top two reasons that we're encountering. >> danger. >> we do see violence and gang activity in some areas. the situation was worse in the '90s and wrs worse for the first seven years of this decade. certainly, there are factors in those countries that are driving people to seek a better
opportunity and a better life. >> and clearly, the dangers en route from the dangers at home are as bad, if not worse. the coyotes and the traffickers and all of that are an extraordinarily perilous ordeal for these individuals to have to endure, are they not? >> i agree strongly. and what we're seeing is the social media feedback from families that are successful arrivals in the u.s. that image of success to someone who knows someone in a community is more powerful than any warnings we can provide on the dangers of the journey. i heard that firsthand meeting with community leaders. >> so here's my concern about what was meant by issues in our legal framework that are inviting these families, because we heard when the family separation policy was initially set up, a lot of deterrent talk
that if we're going to be tough with these families, if we're going to separate the kids, that's going to send a message and they won't bother to come. if you start in a point of view that you think that the way we receive and treat people at the border is operating as an invitation, and that something has to be done about that, it's very short step to saying, well, instead of just like not having it be invitation, we should actually discourage them, make it unpleasant. we should actually try to deter people from doing that. and it strikes me that if that is a policy and we are deliberately using something between discomfort, fear and cruelty as a policy mechanism to try to discourage people from coming to our country, first of all, that doesn't seem very american to me. it just doesn't. that's not the way we are. that's not what we do. so i've got that concern.
the second is, if you really want to have a deterrent effect on somebody in the way they're treated when they hit the american border, when you consider what they're leaving, which we already discussed, when you consider the ordeal of the transit, which we've already discussed, the idea that we can do something that will make an appreciable difference to their calculus by treating them cruelly or unkindly when they get to our borders doesn't even seem logical. would you have to go to such levels of abuse that nobody would tolerate that, if you were going to try to make that the rule. so what assurances can you give me that this question of invitation versus deterrents is not part of our policy calculation as we decide how we deal with people who present themselves at our borders? >> i can assure you, unequivocally, that the way you've described deterrence is absolutely not part of our policy or any part of a law enforcement discussion at cvp or elsewhere in dhs that i'm aware
of. that is absolutely not the goal, to deter through harsh treatment, to summarize your points. so what we do have, though, is a situation where there is -- >> what do you mean by inviting? >> what do i mean by inviting. >> what do you mean when you said inviting? >> i mean that by telling families in central america and this is also interpreted even more aggressively through smugglers in the messaging, that if they come to the u.s. now, they'll be released immediately and allowed to stay. you are inviting them to try. that's what i mean. >> and do you think that changing that would affect the decision of somebody who is willing to face the ordeal of the transit? >> there is no question in my mind. it's every time there has been an immigration court result and an effective repatriation of those who don't have a lawful right to stay in the u.s., that has reduced the flow. i can show you the data from the 2014 surge that president obama's team responded to by holding families through court proceedings and returning them and how quickly that dropped
off. >> so you're talking about repatriation as the signal back as opposed to mistreatment or absence of care or cruelty or family separation at the border as the signal. >> yes. >> okay. time's up. thank you. mr. cruz. >> thank you, mr. chairman. commissioner mcaleenan, good to see you again. >> good to see you. >> thank you for your service and please express a thank you to all the good men and women of border patrol for their heroic service each and every day, keeping this country safe. i want to start with a simple question. in your judgment, your professional experience, do walls work? >> unquestionably. >> so if i understand it correctly, san diego, the wall there, was built in 1992, illegal traffic dropped 88% over 18 years, and 95% over 23 years. >> we saw the same experience in el paso. in el paso, the wall was built in 1993. illegal traffic dropped 72% over one year and 95% over 22 years.
same thing in tucson. wall built in 2000. illegal traffic dropped 90% over 15 years. yuma, wall was built in 2005. illegal traffic dropped 95% over four years. are those figures accurate? >> yes, senator. >> and does that reflect your professional experience that putting a physical barrier can have a significant impact decreasing and stopping illegal immigration? >> yes. >> and that's both for human traffickers and narcotics traffickers. >> no question. >> let's talk about a second topic, which is kids. there's been considerable discussion about kids, and senator feinstein mentioned that she and i have been working on legislation together. i remain hopeful. this ought to be an area of bipartisan cooperation. it seems to me that everyone, republican and democrat, should be able to agree, number one,
that families should stay together. that the best place for a child is with his or her mom or dad. but the rub is number two, in what capacity. has been the pose congressional democrats that in order to keep families together what cbp must do is release both the children and the adults. i think that is a mistaken approach. the legislation that i've introduced that i have been negotiating with senator feinstein would mandate that families stay together in a secure environment, and then expedite the proceedings. so that if that -- those families have a valid claim for asylum, that claim is adjudicated quickly and granted. but if they don't have a valid claim of asylum, it's adjudicated quickly, it's denied and they're sent on a plane and
sent home. in your experience, what is the effectiveness of a catch and release system, a system that apprehends people crossing illegally and then releases them? >> it invites further unlawful behavior. >> and what is the differential in terms of the timing for adjudicated cases between the detained docket where the individual is in custody versus the nondetained docket where they're released? >> detained docket in my experience moves efficiently. six to eight weeks. the nondetained docket is years. >> one of the significant challenges with our current policy is we have now created massive incentives to bring kids with you, because we have essentially turned a child into a get out of jail free card. to what extent are you seeing conduct from cartels
deliberately bringing either unaccompanied minors or family units over with the intention of gaming the system in the united states? >> so i can tell you, senator, that in the last ten months as chief hastings briefed yesterday, they identified approximately 1700 individuals that presented as a family unit that had made fraudulent claims. and even more concerning there was reporting this week of attorneys advising people on how to do this in central america and providing fake birth certificates, fake indications of relationship before they depart from central america to enable this process. you're right. if you bring a child, you will be released. you're immune from the enforcement of the law between ports of entry. that's not a situation that's sustainable. >> let me underscore that point. because i think it's quite stunning. you've seen in excess of 1700
cases where children were with adults. you were told they were a family unit and you discovered that was fraudulent. whoever those adults were, they were not family members of those kids? >> correct. >> and let me ask you if a child is in the custody of a human trafficker or narcotics trafficker, how frequently are you encountering physical abuse or sexual abuse of those children in the custody of traffickers? >> it's unfortunately a very common occurrence. >> so if we were concerned with taking care of kids, we would want to do everything possible to prevent little boys and little girls from being in the custody of traffickers who are fraudulently using those kids to game our law enforcement. is that right? >> of course. >> well, thank you for your good work in that regard. >> thank you. >> i want to thank you for your willingness to testify today. i'll be the last person asking
you questions before we recess until 3:15. i want to make sure i understand. if i'm in central america, if i'm in any country other than mexico, and i want to come to the united states illegally through our southern border, if i have a child with me, whether that child is my own or not, and i claim that child as my own, i get released after 20 days. is that right? >> 20 days is the maximum that a family can be held. actually, most are being held 72 hours or less either by cbp and then released by ice or in a ice family residential center usually in the to 12 days. >> 20 days is the maximum time? >> and that's not long enough for a proceeding. >> and then i'm released into the united states? >> yes. >> that can and should resulted in a lot of bad things. right? >> yes. >> are children occasionally abducted and then paired with those seeking to get through our
asylum system? >> yes. >> have there been instances where people from other countries have paid smugglers a large sum of money to help them come across. they fly to mexico or in one way or another travel to mexico from another country, arrive at the u.s./mexico border and are then paired with a child, not their own, a child they've never met and to whom they have no relation at the border in order to manipulate our asylum system? >> yes. within the 1700 claims, there were cases like that included. >> those 1700 are just the ones you've identified? >> that's correct. >> and the fact that you've had 1 700 of them just in the last ten months alone for those that you've identified could well indicate the overall number is even larger than that. >> certainly. >> it's difficult for me to conceive of any policy we could
adopt that could do more quite p perversely to -- >> i think that's a legitimate concern. >> people who traffic in human beings as a routine matter understand that there are certain signals, certain signs that might indicate to law enforcement authorities that they're engaging in human trafficking. that is right? >> yes. >> and they're aware if they come through a port of entry that they're more likely to be seen by authorities? where does that generally push them? >> to between ports crossing. granted, we don't see families evading apprehension for the most part. they are presenting and then allowing that process to start. but, again, we're overwhelmed in many areas of the border in el
paso and yuma arizona. think of the agents trying to process hundreds of families at the same time, trying to discern the indicators. they're worried about the medical issues, someone who might have a criminal or gang record and then still trying to move them quickly through the system to ice. that's a lot to ask of our agents and officers. >> the absence of a barrier, then, makes it easier for people to pass undetected through a port of entry where they might be recognized. if you want to come in through star county or others in texas where there are large areas of uncontrolled open bordered without any barrier at all, you'd find it easier to get through there. >> right. >> stay in moex koexico, the ren mexico program. tell us how that would help us offset the perverse incentives we ourselves have created through our own government policies for human trafficking. >> give -- it will give more and
greater access to lawful immigration court proceedings without releasing people into the united states indefinitely. . >> for those who want or need to come to the united states and have a legitimate basis for doing so, we would be more sympathetic to them? we would be in a better position to offer asylum if we adopted that program? >> correct. >> i was pleased to hear that the remain in mexico program is going to be extended. tell me what you expect to see in the coming months. >> right. so it's nation is developing. we're starting igt right now in san diego. san diego port of entry as well as san diego sector. we want to extend it along the boa border. to asylum seekers who don't want to go through the dangerous cycle but might have a valid
asylum claim. they go to a dedicated court docket. the hearings start in ten days from the program just starting up six or eight weeks ago. it's going to be a much more expeditious process to get an immigration court result. and grant asylum and create a process with integrity. >> it helps us discourage human trafficking, physical border barrier helps direct people toward lawful points of entry and when they're directed more for lawful ports of entry, it's easier for us to detect and interfere with human trafficking? >> all those are correct. and it's also a critical tool for stopping smugglers bringing narcotics as well as single adults trying to evade apprehension. >> thank you. we appreciate your testimony today, and thank you for your service. you're in our thoughts and prayers as you protect our country. we'll stand in recess until