U.S. Border Patrol Rio Grande Valley Sector Chief Patrol Agent Gloria Chavez
Alright. Well, good afternoon, everyone. My name is Gloria Chavez. I’m the Chief Patrol Agent here for the Rio Grande Valley. I want to welcome all of you here today and thank you so much because I know many of you have been staging here to cover our story here on the ground in Brownsville, Texas. Over here on the ground, here in Brownville, Texas. Here behind me we have a very efficient operation called Camp Monument. This is a setup that we did with Border Patrol Agents from day one when we started seeing a migrant influx enter right through this area of responsibility for us. To date, since April 16, we have screened and processed close to 30,000 migrants coming in through this area, mostly Venezuela nationals, followed by Colombia, as well as Ecuador. This is a system that is efficient for us. It's an area that we monitor daily. And we have about maybe 36 to 38 Agents that are dedicated here for this operation.
Number one goal is to do intake processing, to do security to ensure the safety of everyone, and then third: transportation to get them from the field here, this location, to facilities, whether it's Border Patrol stations, whether it's our central processing centers, or whether it's to a port of entry because Title 42 is still in place. So, therefore, we are in coordination with the government of Mexico to return Venezuela nationals back into Mexico on a daily basis, as well as the other sectors that are helping us throughout the Southwest Border to decompress.
RGV for many years have seen an increase of migrant encounters. This is not new to us. We are a mature sector. I call it a mega-sector because we have a very large region. This workforce is experienced. It's mature. It's very skilled. They know exactly what they're doing. In three days, they were able to set up this operation on the ground for us to have an efficient throughput of processing intake, medical screening, as well as transport to other locations. My thanks go out to every single Border Patrol agent from RGV that is out here every day supporting the operation, whether you're doing it here physically, or by virtual processing from different station locations out here. Kudos goes out to all the other sectors along the Southwest Border and around the nation. Because Northern Border Agents also doing virtual processing to support RGV operations, as well as coastal sectors that are supporting virtual processing.
This is a community effort. This is not something that the Border Patrol, or CBP for that matter, is doing alone. We get our strength from our community, from our community stakeholders like local law enforcement, like our federal partners. Everyone has a hand in this today. And I couldn't be more happy to see the amount of support that I've received from the local law enforcement partners, the Sheriff's Departments of Cameron County, Hidalgo County, Willacy County, and so many others, as well as the local law enforcement for police departments out here. Huge appreciation for the City of Brownsville leadership, local officials, and the Office of Emergency Management that has helped tremendously as well. My appreciation to the government of Mexico as well, the INM (Instituto Nacional de Migración) team who has been out there. They're part of the immigration department who was helping us as well with the Title 42 returns.
So, there's a lot of movement out here. We're doing throughput of about maybe 400 a shift, 500 a shift out to different locations, and we're going to continue to do that. My concern are the safety and well-being of every migrant that is processed through here. We want to ensure their quick transfer out. They don't last more than three hours at this location, maybe four, and they move on to what the next process along the way. So, with that, I just wanted to give you a quick glimpse of our operations here on the ground, and I’d love to introduce to you now our leadership that is here visiting us here in RGV: Mr. Secretary from Homeland Security. Thank you, sir.
Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas
Thank you very much, Chief Chavez. The situation at the border is a very serious one, a very challenging one, and a very difficult one. Every single day and every single night, day in and day out, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, United States Border Patrol Agents are keeping our borders secure. They are an extraordinary workforce, and I am – and this country is – incredibly grateful for them.
The situation is indeed very difficult. I was in McAllen yesterday – in McAllen yesterday, and I'm in Brownsville today, and what the purpose of my trip is to review our operations and to see our planning for the end of Title 42 in action. I met with Border Patrol Agents. I have met with our extraordinary Office of Field Operations personnel of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. I met with – at Port Isabel with our Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel, with local community leaders, law enforcement leaders, with nonprofit organizations as well.
As Chief Chavez said, this requires a community response to a challenge to our communities. And that is indeed what we are bringing: a community response. It is no different across the entire region, across the entire Western Hemisphere. This is a regional challenge that requires regional solutions. It is not unique to the Southern Border of the United States, and I've spoken about this before. And, therefore, three weeks ago, I was in Panama to meet with our Panamanian and Colombian partners, and we agreed to surge enforcement operations to prevent individuals from entering the very dangerous and treacherous Darién at the hands of ruthless smugglers.
Earlier this week, the President's Homeland Security Adviser met with the President of Mexico and agreed upon an enforcement surge in the south of Mexico to prevent individuals from being exploited by smugglers, as those vulnerable individuals are misinformed by the smugglers and brought to the Southern Border only to be returned.
A regional challenge requires a regional solution. Let me give you a brief overview of our approach. As we indicated last week, we are building lawful pathways that will provide a safe and orderly way for individuals who qualify for relief under United States law to reach the United States safely. We are building on the success of our parole processes that we announced on January 5 for the Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans. We saw a 95% drop in the number of encounters of those individuals at our Southern Border because we built lawful pathways for them to access, and that is the model that we are building upon.
Last Thursday, Secretary of State Tony Blinken and I announced the development of regional processing centers in different parts of South and Central America to enable individuals to access lawful pathways from those regional processing centers, whether they qualify for refugee processing, whether they qualify for our existing and expanding family reunification programs, whether they present acute vulnerabilities that may qualify them for humanitarian parole on a case-by-case basis.
We are reaching the people where they are. It is not only our security obligation; it is our humanitarian responsibility to cut the smugglers out, and that is indeed what we are doing. We are building pathways.
At the same time – at the same time, we will deliver consequences for individuals who arrive at our Southern Border irregularly. That is our commitment and our obligation as a way of cutting the smugglers out and taking care of the safety and needs of individuals who qualify for relief. In a post-Title 42 environment, we will be using our expedited removal authorities under Title 8 of the United States Code – that allows us to remove individuals very quickly. We will by May 11 finalize the rule that we published in a proposed format that provides that individuals who do not access our lawful pathways will be presumed to be ineligible for asylum and will have a higher burden of proof to overcome that presumption of ineligibility. We are building lawful pathways, and we are delivering consequences for those who do not use those meaningfully accessible pathways.
The message is very clear. We are coming with the relief that our laws provide to the individuals in need. The border is not open, it has not been open, and it will not be open subsequent to May 11. And the smugglers who exploit vulnerable migrants are spreading misinformation. They are spreading false information, lies in a way to lure vulnerable people to the Southern Border, and those individuals will only be returned. To the individuals themselves who are thinking of migrating: do not believe the smugglers. Please access the official government publications. Please access the official government information on the Department of Homeland Security website for accurate information, because you are being deceived and you are risking your lives and your life savings only to meet a consequence that you do not expect at our Southern Border.
To meet our objectives, we have been – and continue to – surge resources, personnel, transportation capabilities, airplanes to affect a greater number of removals every week. Additional facilities – the remarkable facility that the United States Border Patrol set up here in collaboration with the community of Brownsville. This was set up in just 72 hours. We are surging resources. Earlier today, we also announced the distribution of additional funds to border communities, nonprofit organizations, and several interior cities to meet their needs in their partnership with us to address the situation at our border and to address the humanitarian needs of migrants. We distributed approximately $330 million more today for the benefit of those organizations. We have a plan. We are executing on that plan. I have come to McAllen and Brownsville to see firsthand that plan in action. Fundamentally, however, fundamentally, we are working within a broken immigration system that for decades has been in dire need of reform. That is a fact about which everyone agrees, and we urge Congress to fix our broken immigration system. And until then, we will do everything that we can within our authorities to provide an orderly and safe pathway for individuals who qualify for relief under the laws of the United States of America. Thank you and with that, I will turn it over to Deputy Commissioner Cory Huffman of Customs and Border Protection.
Acting U.S. Customs and Border Protection Deputy Commissioner Benjamine “Carry” Huffman
First off, I'd like to say, I'm very glad to be here along with the Secretary, Chief Chavez, Chief Ortiz, and the rest of the CBP team.
We are facing a very, very challenging time. Leaders show what's important by where they spend their time. And the fact that Secretary has spent so much time in this area, recognizes the fact this is a priority for him, it's a priority for our government to do everything we can.
We are facing very, very challenging times. There's no question about that. And we have been preparing for these challenging times for quite some time and we're ready. There's no better team to face this than the CBP team and which is a good example of that of our preparations.
The ability for this, for the RGV sector to set up this process, in three short days, it's got – it builds upon the lessons we've learned, and how our preparation we've done that make us ready to take on the situation. We're surging resources quickly all across the border, different places that we need it.
We've increased our capacity by a third – a third over the last 24 months to help us be prepared for this. We're working hard to do this. We're focused on getting as many agents back on the line. We have been – we've been hiring for the last year or so contractors and non-uniformed personnel to do jobs that law – that Border Patrol Agents normally do to get them back on the line. So it's very important to do that.
To follow up on what the commissioner said, on May 11, it will still be unlawful to enter this country illegally. With the – we will be relying upon our decades old Title 8 processing that we've used time and time again in the past to enforce the law and to protect the border.
That coupled with increasing in criminal prosecutions will allow for the rule of law for to prevail on our border and that's our goal and that's the challenges we're facing.
But I want to spend a few minutes here to talk about the CBP team and tell you exactly how proud I am on the work they've done and continue to do.
I, for the last year and a half, I've traveled this country and I'm – this – many different stations, many different locations, talking to our workforce to better understand the challenges they're facing. And I couldn't tell you, I'm sure the Secretary, Chief Ortiz, and Chief Chavez agree we couldn't be more prouder than the work they do in the communities and the communities they work with, which is further identifying – and the risks they takes – and I couldn't, close out and take one moment about the work of our recently with the U.S. Border Patrol BORTAC team and how they really stepped up in the community to help arrest that a wanted murderer who had been on the run for several days to help keep that community safe.
That's the quality of the personnel you have working this border situation. That's the quality of the people in your community and I couldn't be more prouder of them. With that I'm going to turn it over to Chief Ortiz to get more operational details about what's going on with our preparations.
U.S. Border Patrol Chief Raul L. Ortiz
Good afternoon and thank you Deputy Commissioner, Mr. Secretary for coming down here to see firsthand the great work that's unfolding in Rio Grande Valley and South Texas. And then Chief Chavez for your leadership. I will tell you that a couple of weeks ago, Secretary asked me, "Where do we need to go first chief?" and I said, "before May 11, we need to go to South Texas."
We knew that we were going to see some increases down here and that has transpired over the last two weeks. Brownsville has traditionally been a slower area for us in South Texas, and what we've seen that's unfolded here, just south of us, is migrant populations for Venezuela have crossed 24 hours a day. The Chief responded with medical assets and resources.
We've asked for support from other agencies. We've got our Texas Department of Public Safety personnel working side by side with by our Border Patrol Agents and we have our OFO partners, and then we have our state and local partners. Once again, this is a team effort. We're continuing to move these migrants into our processing facilities as quickly as we possibly can. We have tremendous capacity here in South Texas. We have had that for about six or seven years and we're going to continue to leverage that to the best of our ability.
As the Secretary mentioned, we're gonna balance that it gets our border security mission set. We want to keep as many Border Patrol Agents out on those front lines. Allow our processing coordinators of volunteers or DoD personnel, the 1,500 DoD personnel are going to help us on those admin functions, so we can get agents back out on patrol.
Ultimately, our goal is to keep these communities safe and make sure that our agents are safe when they're out there performing their duties each and every day.
So Mr. Secretary, thank you for your continued support to the Border Patrol and we appreciate the fact that you guys continue to cover this story because it is an important story. Thank you.
Question: Can you explain why you've seen this big surge in the last couple of weeks? And if you're seeing this big of a surge ahead of May 11- May 12, what are you expecting come May 12?
Secretary Mayorkas: So, the surge of the past couple of weeks is really focused on one particular demographic. We've seen an increase in the number of Venezuelan nationals coming to our border. It's very difficult to identify the cause, you know, the challenge of migration is in one aspect, it’s dynamism. It is a very complex phenomenon. We saw the tragic fire in the city of Juarez in Mexico and the impact domestically within Mexico. And since then, we saw over the past two weeks, a significant surge of Venezuelans. We have reached an agreement with the government of Mexico to address that surge and we're going to see the results of that agreement very shortly.
Question: And if so, how prepared are you for a surge in terms of processing people?
Secretary Mayorkas: So just to make sure that everybody heard the question, do we expect a surge and if so, how prepared are we? So, as the [Deputy] Commissioner mentioned, as [Deputy] Commissioner Huffman mentioned, we've been preparing for well over a year. It was in September of 2021 when we first developed a six-pillar plan to address the end of Title 42. We updated that throughout the calendar year 2022. So, we've been preparing for quite some time, and we are ready. What we are expecting is indeed a surge. And what we are doing is planning for different levels of a surge. That is what we do. We plan for different scenarios, so we are ready to address them. And we are indeed ready to address them.
Question: Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for taking my question. Can you just talk a little bit about some of the things that you've seen on the ground, some of the concerns that you're hearing? And given that we're in a region that's already seeing 1,000s of encounters a day, how confident are you that the measures that you've put in place are going to work?
Secretary Mayorkas: I think that there is no question that this is going to be extremely challenging. I do not want to understate the severity of the challenge that we expect to encounter. The border is a very, as I said at the very outset, it is a difficult situation. It requires not only a community of action on this side of the border, but it requires a community of action south of our border. Not only with our Mexican partners but with other countries throughout the region. And indeed, we have an international approach to an international challenge. What I've seen on the ground in my visit to McAllen and to Brownsville is no different than what I've seen in my more than 15 prior trips to the border as the Secretary of Homeland Security. I have seen an extraordinary workforce in green uniform in the United States border patrol, in blue uniform in the Office of Field Operations of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, across the expanse of the Department of Homeland Security, and quite frankly across the expanse of this entire administration. This administration addresses challenges as one team in an all of government approach.
Question: Now this question is for Chief Ortiz, thank you for taking my question. Back in March in McAllen, you told Republican lawmakers that the U.S. does not have an Operational Control of the Southern Border. Do you still stand by that statement? And if so, what is it you need to gain control of the border?
Chief Ortiz: Yeah, so the question that was posed during my hearing, was the congressional legislative definition of operational control where nobody crosses the border. I've been doing this job for 32 years. We've never had operational control. Have we had various levels of control? Yeah, most certainly. Even while I was the Acting Chief or Deputy Chief here for five and a half years, this side of Rio Grande Valley was very secure. But out on my west side, we had surges quite often in Rio Grande City, Stark County and Hidalgo County, and that plays out across the entire stretch of the 2,000-mile border that we share with Mexico. And so, I have some sectors that I have greater levels of confidence in just because the flow isn't what it is. But this morning, Chief Chavez’s team apprehended 2,300 people in the sector, and so that requires an awful lot of capacity, and certainly poses some significant challenges for us. So I stick by my comments that I made during the hearing, but we've never had that.
Question: Mr. Secretary, you guys have been talking about the pathways and the plans that are in place obviously for majority Venezuelan migrants that was expanded to Haitian, Cuban, and Nicaraguan migrants. Why isn't that policy is being enforced. Right now, many of the migrants I'm meeting along the streets of Brownsville are swimming in between the ports of entry as you have mentioned that that happens, they're supposed to be returned. They're not being returned, and they're single adults without family here. Why is that happening?
Secretary Mayorkas: So, I think you are actually mistaken because the parole process for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans that we first announced and implemented on January 5, is underway and continues to be underway. And we continue, if I may – if I may, it does, and if I may, we continue to parole individuals of those four nationalities when they qualify under the program that we established and announced, and that requires a sponsor here in the United States to ensure that those individuals have financial stability, and they are able to arrive in a safe and orderly way. That is indeed underway. And we continue, and we continue to expel Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans. The number of Venezuelans that we've been able to expel has actually diminished over the past two weeks. The cause of that is a very complicated one. We've sat down with the Mexican government and those expulsions, and of course, in a post Title 42 environment, those removals will continue. And that is why the message is so important that people -- vulnerable people -- are receiving false information. They are being lied to that if they come and arrive at our border that they can stay in the United States. That is not what the law provides. That is not the consequence that we will deliver.
Question: Good afternoon. Mr. Secretary, you mentioned after May 11. There would be quote, “a higher burden of proof” that the migrants would need to show to be -- to have exceptions. Could you expand upon that, could you also talk about the credible fear interviews and the processes that you're going through to expedite these migrants, so many?
Secretary Mayorkas: So the rule is being finalized and until that rule is indeed final and published, it is difficult for me to answer the question just as a matter of law because it is not set. It is not established until it is actually final and published. But the general concept, the general concept is as follows: that individuals who access the lawful pathways that we deliver for them, will be able to come to the United States in a safe and orderly way. Those who travel irregularly in the hands of smugglers, because I have to repeat again, it is a security and humanitarian imperative that we cut the smugglers out. Those who arrive irregularly at our border will be presumed absent – some limited exceptions – will be presumed to be ineligible for asylum, and they will meet a rebuttable presumption of ineligibility. To overcome that presumption, they will have to meet a higher threshold of proof.
Question: You were saying that the smugglers are leading them to misinformation and if they can be here illegally – they cross illegally, and they don't meet the threshold that they will be expelled. That's the message you're sending. Can you walk us through what that looks like? Is that like a mass deportation? something different than what we've been seeing?
Secretary Mayorkas: So Griff, in a – when Title 42 comes to an end on May 11, we will use as, we have expressed before, our traditional immigration authorities, the ones that we sought to use earlier when we sought to end Title 42 but were prevented from doing so by a court. And Title 8 of the United States Code -- Our traditional immigration authorities actually deliver a consequence because when someone is removed, when someone does not qualify for relief, and is removed from the United States, they face an at least five-year bar from admission into the United States. So the consequence is going to be more severe. And what we will do, what we will do is remove individuals who do not qualify for relief under the standard that will be set by the rule that we will have finalized by May 11.
Luis Miranda: And we're gonna finish up with this last question.
Question: Thank you so much. I just have a question for you, Mr. Secretary, and a quick one for Chief Ortiz. Mr. Secretary we've heard from mayors here in the Rio Grande Valley and across Texas, that they're concerned they're not equipped to handle the number of migrants entering their streets. DHS just allocated, as you mentioned, 300 million to NGOs and border communities. But does the federal government have a role in standing up housing and medical care, especially when hospitals NGOs, and churches are at capacity and migrants are sleeping on their sidewalks? And just quickly to Chief Ortiz, can you explain geographically where troops will be located? Which sectors are they staying?
Secretary Mayorkas: So, Nicole, we are working very, very closely with city and local officials. As I have expressed earlier, we are working with nonprofit organizations. This requires a community response, and we are providing funding through our emergency food and shelter program, Congress allocated $800 million dollars to this program. Last year, we only had $150 million. We have allocated a great number of those funds already to resource the communities to address the needs that you express. There are approximately $363 million left to distribute. We will do that through the new shelter and services program. The community challenges require a community response, and we are working holistically with communities across the border to address this challenge.
Chief Ortiz: And then, with respect to the DoD personnel, so currently, we have 2,500 DoD personnel supporting the CBP Border Patrol Mission, and they're housed and stationed across the Southwest Border. The additional 1,500 personnel that are going to be allocated over the next few weeks will be based in El Paso, but what that will allow me to do is resources that I've been dedicating to El Paso, because it has been a much busier place over the last six months, I'm going to be able to reallocate those to some of the other sectors that require some additional capacity. So, we're gonna be able to balance that out. We've got a plan. We've been working with our partners with DoD and we appreciate their support. Thank you.
Secretary Mayorkas: Luis, I want to say something more about that if I may, Chief Ortiz and Nicole. The deployment of Department of Defense personnel is nothing new. Since 2006, every single year since 2006, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and specifically the United States Border Patrol, has relied upon additional resources from the Department of Defense. This year is the first year, thanks to President Biden Budget, this is the first this is the first year since 2011 that we have been able to dedicate 300 new border patrol agents to the United States Border Patrol. The President's fiscal year 2024 budget asks for an additional 350 Border Patrol agents. We are plussing up the United States border patrol for the first time in more than a decade, and we are committed to continuing to do so. Resources are vital to the effort that we have underway. The challenges will be significant. The plans we have put in place are tailored to meet those challenges. We have the greatest workforce in the world to fulfill our mission, and we will do so, and I'm so incredibly proud to support them. Thank you all for being here.