WASHINGTON—Border agents in southeast Texas are so swamped, with more than 1,400 apprehensions a day and a detention capacity of 3,300, that they’re often forced to release families only hours after apprehension.
Additionally, legal constraints say children—even those with parents—cannot be detained by Border Patrol for more than 72 hours, during which time it’s impossible to obtain all criminal records for the adults.
Usually, families are transferred into Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody for a maximum of 20 days, under the Flores Settlement Agreement. But the agency has limited family detention space, and the overwhelming numbers have forced releases, often with the adult wearing an ankle bracelet (of which more than 1 in 4 are cut off).
The Rio Grande Valley Sector outstrips all others along the southern border for sheer volume of illegal crossings. More than 190,000 individuals within family units have been apprehended by Border Patrol in the sector so far this fiscal year. Another 31,000 unaccompanied minors were apprehended, as well as 80,000 single adults.
Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said he traveled to McAllen, Texas, on the weekend of July 27 to better understand the border crisis.
Lankford said border agents told him that after releasing a man and a child into the United States, they finally obtained the man’s criminal records, which showed he’s a convicted pedophile in his home country.
“[He’s] now traveling with a child somewhere in our country,” Lankford said during a congressional hearing on July 30.
In another example, Lankford said agents told him they released another adult and child and two weeks later got criminal records.
“The adult had a murder warrant in their home country. And [border agents had] just released them into the country, and they could do nothing about it,” Lankford said.
Rodolfo Karisch, Border Patrol chief for the Rio Grande Valley Sector, said on April 9 that a disturbing trend is the growing number of men who bring children into the United States.
In 2014, in the sector, less than 1 percent of all males arrested by Border Patrol had a child traveling with them. Now, around 50 percent of men are bringing a child, knowing it’s a fast-track way to be released into the United States.
“They recognize that because of the Flores Settlement, is that they’re not going to be kept in custody. So I mean that shows you exactly how they are exploiting the system,” Karisch said. “And right now, because of volume, it is very difficult for us to spend a great deal of time in interviewing every single person.”
Lankford said when he toured the McAllen facility, he noticed that most of the males had infants or very young children with them. He was told that the average age of children used to be higher, and agents could often pull the child aside and ask if the man was really their father.
“With infants, you can’t do that,” Lankford said.
ICE and Customs and Border Protection tracked the large caravans traveling north toward the United States from October 2018 to January 2019.
A report provided to House Republicans showed that 660 members of the first caravan in October 2018 had U.S. criminal convictions.
“Nearly 40 were convicted of assault or aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and three individuals were convicted of murder,” the report states. Information about any criminal convictions in their home countries wasn’t released.
Another caravan of 3,300 individuals that departed Honduras in January contained more than 860 individuals with U.S. criminal histories, including more than 20 convicted of assault or aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, nearly 30 convicted of sexual offenses, two convicted of violence against law enforcement, and one convicted of attempted murder.