(EL PASO, Texas) — U.S. Customs and Border Protection facilities in most regions along the southern border are over capacity even as the number of those in custody has declined, Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz said Wednesday.
As of Wednesday, there were 26,354 people in CBP custody, which Ortiz said was, “several thousand less” compared to earlier in the morning.
Five of the nine Border Patrol sectors in the southwest were over 125% capacity.
“But that means that there are four sectors that aren’t,” Ortiz said, adding that Border Patrol has been flying migrants from high-traffic areas to facilities with more capacity.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was peppered by questions from reporters at a White House briefing Thursday about whether the administration was prepared for the end of the Title 42 migrant expulsion policy.
“We could see very crowded – as we are now – we could see very crowded Border Patrol facilities,” Mayorkas said. “I cannot overstate the strain on our personnel and our facilities, but we know how to manage through such strain, as difficult as it will be. I have tremendous confidence and pride in our personnel.”
From the Mexico side of the border in Ciudad Juarez, however, the number migrants crossing into the El Paso area has declined since the weekend.
“The officials in Texas and other places in the US are exaggerating what is happening here for political reasons. There is no crisis here at the moment,” a city government spokesperson said. “We’ve had many other immigration waves that were far more impactful, when all of our shelter space was full and people were on the streets.”
Overall, Ortiz said authorities are tracking around 65K migrants in northern areas of Mexico and that the surge CBP has been expecting may soon subside.
“The increase that we have seen in the last 5 to 7 days was really the surge … I think that what we see now is a continued effort by some to message incorrectly that once Title 42 goes away, it’s going to be a free for all along the border,” Ortiz said. “I don’t see that being the case. Our agents will be out there performing their duties.”
Title 42, the pandemic-era policy which allowed the U.S. to expel upward of two million migrants from the border, expires Thursday.
Currently, 4,000 beds remain open in Ciudad Juarez shelters — well below 50% capacity. That number has been dropping for two weeks and continues to fall.
Ortiz said he believes the administration has shifted to a strategy that prioritizes enforcement and shows migrants the consequences of crossing illegally.
Asked whether heavy-handed measures were necessary for migrants sleeping in the streets of El Paso, Ortiz stood by his approach.
“It wasn’t about chasing people around down the streets, into churches, into a protected areas,” Ortiz said. “It was a very methodical approach. And I was very proud of everyone.”
Under the direction of the secretary, Customs and Border Protection is relying on new features in a mobile phone app called CBP One to schedule appointments for migrants on the border.
About 740 migrants with appointments are arriving at federal border facilities each day, Secretary Mayorkas said on Thursday. The number of appointments is a small fraction of those who have attempted to cross on a daily basis in recent years. CBP is working to expand appointments to 1,000 per day, but with the end of Title 42 just hours away, it might not be enough.
“The greatest level of frustration is actually being able to make the appointment, not the utility of the CBP One app itself,” Mayorkas said. “That is again, another example of a broken immigration system.”
Migrant crossings have at times exceeded 10,000 in a single day, Mayorkas said. He blamed Congress for an immigration system that does not have the capacity to handle everyone seeking to enter the U.S.
“Our current situation is the outcome of Congress leaving a broken, outdated immigration system in place for over two decades, despite unanimous agreement that we desperately need legislative reform,” Mayorkas said.
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