Former Chief: If ICE Hits Capacity, ‘We’ve Lost’ the Border

By Charlotte Cuthbertson
Charlotte Cuthbertson
Charlotte Cuthbertson
Senior Reporter
Charlotte Cuthbertson is a senior reporter with The Epoch Times who primarily covers border security and the opioid crisis.
June 4, 2019 Updated: June 4, 2019

WASHINGTON—As the southern border becomes more and more overwhelmed, with thousands of people entering illegally every day, detention space is tight.

The Defense Department (DOD) is scrambling to build more space for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, before Homeland Security is forced to release single adults, not just family units. In many cases, if Border Patrol doesn’t find a criminal record, it will release families within 72 hours of crossing the border.

On May 20, Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan approved the DOD to assess six locations for the construction of tents so ICE can hold a minimum of 7,500 single adults. The locations include Arizona (Tucson and Yuma) and Texas (Tornillo, Donna, Laredo, and Del Rio). The DOD has already constructed 500-bed tents in both El Paso and Donna, Texas, at a combined cost of $36.9 million for construction and four months of operation.

ICE currently has more than 52,000 individuals in custody, while the agency has funding for a little over 45,000 people. A spokesman for ICE said the agency can expand capacity during a border surge and is currently looking for more beds.

It has already expanded spaces in several locations, including Aurora Contract Detention Facility in Aurora, Colorado (432 new beds); and several detention facilities in Louisiana—River Correctional Center (500 beds), Jackson Parish Correctional Center (1,000 beds), and Richwood Correctional Center (1,000 beds).

border security
A new, 500-person Border Patrol tent facility for processing and holding illegal immigrants in Donna, Texas, on May 2, 2019. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

Former acting ICE Director Tom Homan says that if capacity issues force the release of single adults, the border is lost.

“If we get to the point where we release them, then the border’s open, we’ve lost it, and the whole world’s going to come in,” Homan told The Epoch Times on May 24.

“It would be the most devastating consequence we’ve ever seen on our border … and it’s going to be hard to regain control of it.”

Border Patrol agents have apprehended more than 30,000 single adults along the southern border in each of the last two months. In the first seven months of fiscal 2019, more than 167,000 single adults were apprehended.

However, tens of thousands have also evaded capture by Border Patrol. In the Rio Grande Valley Sector in Texas—the busiest for illegal crossings—more than 25,000 people evaded capture in the first five months of the fiscal year, according to then-sector Deputy Chief Raul Ortiz.

“We actually don’t know who they are. So far, here in south Texas, we’ve apprehended folks from 44 different countries. These are from the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan, Iran, you name it,” Ortiz told The Epoch Times on March 22.

On June 1, Border Patrol agents in Eagle Pass, Texas, apprehended a group of 37 illegal immigrants from the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

border security
Border Patrol agents apprehend five illegal aliens from Mexico after they tried to run away after crossing the Rio Grande near McAllen, Texas, on April 18, 2019. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

If illegal aliens get past Border Patrol, “we don’t know they’re even here,” Homan said. “There’s no record of these people even being in the country. And that’s what’s concerning.”

He said the whole world knows of the chaos on the U.S. southern border.

“The whole world knows if you want to come to United States illegally, now’s the time to come. If somebody wants to come into this country and do bad things to this country—terrorists, or whatever … they’re going to take advantage of the porous border,” Homan said.

“Everybody keeps saying, ‘This is not really a crisis beyond humanitarian.’ No, it is a crisis of national security proportions. Because our border’s vulnerable and it’s vulnerable to terrorists who want to try to come in this country.”

ICE resources have been shifted to the border to help deal with the astronomical numbers crossing and the humanitarian needs they bring. This has resulted in a drop in interior enforcement efforts across the board, according to an April 17 speech by ICE acting Director Matthew Albence.

Compared to the same timeframe as last year, convicted criminal arrests are down more than 14 percent and deportations are down more than 10 percent, Albence said. More than 570,000 at-large criminal aliens and fugitive aliens are still in the country, he said.

“ICE has worked closely with our partners at DOJ to create accelerated dockets to give family units faster access to the asylum process,” Albence said. “Unfortunately, we have seen that up to 90 percent of the people afforded this opportunity did not show up to their first hearing.  This provides further evidence that the vast majority of the aliens currently being apprehended at the border are not legitimate asylum claimants.”

border security
A Border Patrol agent works at a terminal for intake and processing at the new Border Patrol tent facility for holding illegal immigrants in Donna, Texas, on May 2, 2019. Similar facilities are currently being constructed for ICE. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

Homan said Democrats are playing down the crisis and refusing to fix legal loopholes because they don’t want President Donald Trump to get any credit for following through on his signature campaign promise.

“I think they really know there’s a problem on the border—you’d have to be stupid not to understand it,” Homan said. “I mean the videos are there, the data’s there, it’s easy to see—they’re just not going to give this president a win. This is politics at its worst.”

Homan said Democratic rhetoric is fueling illegal immigration.

“When you start talking about sanctuary cities, abolishing ICE, we’re not going to give you money for a wall, there is no crisis, we’re going to offer you free in-state tuition, we’ll give free medical care in California and New York. When you say all these things that the Democratic Party’s saying … people are enticed to come to this country. Their proactive talk of open borders drive these people to come to United States and put themselves in the hands of criminal organizations.”

border patrol
A group of illegal aliens is apprehended by Border Patrol after crossing from Mexico into Yuma, Ariz., on April 12, 2019. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

Several Democratic presidential candidates have talked about defunding or abolishing ICE, as well as promising an amnesty deal to millions of illegal aliens already in the country.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) went so far as to say she wouldn’t detain illegal border crossers. “As president of the United States, I wouldn’t use a detention system at all,” she said on “Face the Nation” on May 19. “I would not lock up these families. … They can go into the community.”

Homan said ICE needs to step up and start removing those who don’t have legitimate asylum claims.

“Until Central America starts seeing people coming home, until those villagers and townspeople actually start seeing their neighbors coming home, they’re going to keep coming, because they don’t see anybody come home right now,” he said.

“So people who are coming across have immediate hearings now, based on the current data, 90 percent won’t get relief. Give them a final order, throw them on a plane, and send them home.”

Charlotte Cuthbertson
Charlotte Cuthbertson
Senior Reporter
Charlotte Cuthbertson is a senior reporter with The Epoch Times who primarily covers border security and the opioid crisis.