Former CBP Commissioner: Biden’s Border Strategy Is ‘Release, Protect, Reward’

Former CBP Commissioner: Biden’s Border Strategy Is ‘Release, Protect, Reward’
Mark Morgan, then-acting commissioner Customs and Border Protection, speaks at the National Press Club in Washington on Dec. 20, 2019. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)
Charlotte Cuthbertson

WASHINGTON—Former Acting Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Mark Morgan left his role at noon on Jan. 20. He had been in the position since early July 2019. During the final months of the Obama administration, Morgan also served as the Border Patrol chief.

Morgan spoke to The Epoch Times about the flurry of border security-related executive orders and memos issued by President Joe Biden and his Department of Homeland Security (DHS). These include temporarily suspending deportations of illegal aliens, reversing President Donald Trump’s ban on travel from terror-prone countries, halting border wall construction, stopping the addition of asylum-seekers to the Migrant Protection Protocol program, preserving the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and releasing a sweeping immigration package to Congress that includes amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants.

The Epoch Times: As a critic of Biden’s actions on immigration, which one do you see as most detrimental so far?
Mark Morgan: It’s cumulative. It’s not one thing. What he’s got right now is not an immigration strategy, it’s an open border strategy. And here’s why. First of all, let’s start with the rhetoric during the campaign. So the message that he sent to the migrants and the smugglers themselves is, “If I win, I’m opening my borders.”

One, he stopped building the wall. That wall is an essential part of the multi-layer strategy of infrastructure, technology, and personnel. Two, stop deportations for 100 days. Stop lawful deportations. I personally think that’s unconstitutional. Three, he stopped the Migrant Protection Protocol, which ended catch-and-release. Four, he’s already, through DHS, put the priority for arrests policy back into place they had under the Obama administration. Five is that, in the 2021 appropriations, they reduced ICE bed space to 30,000 [from 55,000]. And let’s go to number six: He said he supports sanctuary cities, he supports the expansion of DACA. Seven, he says he’s going to give amnesty to millions of people. Eight, he’s raised his hand to say he will give free health care to those individuals that are here illegally.

So you take all those into totality, that is not an immigration strategy, that’s a calling card, saying that our borders are going to be open. Because if you come to our border illegally and illegally enter, we will release you into the interior of the United States, we will protect and prevent you from being lawfully deported. And once you remain here illegally, we’re going to reward you with the expansion of DACA, amnesty, and free health care.

That’s release, protect, reward. That’s an open border. You might as well put billboards in the Central American countries saying “Come to the United States, our borders are open.” There’s an interview of a migrant himself who said, Biden has given us 100 days to get to the U.S. border.

With a stroke of a pen, he made our borders less secure, our country less safe, and is endangering every man and woman in CBP that are on the frontlines of our borders, protecting this nation. It’s just outrageous.

Border Patrol agents apprehend illegal immigrants who have just crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico into the United States near McAllen, Texas, on April 18, 2019. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)
Border Patrol agents apprehend illegal immigrants who have just crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico into the United States near McAllen, Texas, on April 18, 2019. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

Effect on Border Agents

Epoch Times: Have you heard from many frontline agents, how they’re feeling about it?
Morgan: When you’re career law enforcement, it’s a resilient bunch ... they’re there administration after administration—they still get up, and they do their job.

I think what’s happening now is very different, though. I’ve worked for at least six presidents, both Democratic and Republican. This is a little different—I’ve never seen such a dichotomy from one administration to the other, and how quickly everything has been dismantled.

One of the senior leaders in the Border Patrol, kind of a tough guy, he looked at me and said, “You know, Commissioner, I’m actually scared.” Because he knows what’s coming. He knows that and so does the workforce.

Because they know that the policies that were in place, how successful they were to address the threat along all our borders.

Biggest Issues

Epoch Times: There’s a lot going on. What do we need to keep an eye on in particular?
Morgan: First of all, stopping deportations. We all know that when someone is not detained while they go through due process, they either don’t show up, or even after they have an order of removal, they don’t comply. That’s just fact.

When are we going to see the tangible effect? So we know that MS-13 gang members will not be deported. And if you’re charged with rape, murder, or child molestation, and you’re not convicted, you can’t be deported. So how are we going to see the impact of that?

We’re not going to see the impact until somebody that should have been deported kills somebody.

Second of all, [Biden] rescinded the Migrant Protection Protocol. They knew they could get away with that and it wouldn’t cause a crisis because they have Title 42. But the moment Title 42 goes away, full-blown crisis.

[Under Title 42, which Trump ordered in place on March 20, 2020, CBP says it is “prohibiting the entry of certain persons who potentially pose a health risk ... because they unlawfully entered the country to bypass health screening measures.“ Additionally, ”to help prevent the introduction of COVID-19 into border facilities and into the United States, persons subject to the order ... will immediately be expelled to their country of last transit.”]

So with Title 42, we’re still able to apprehend right at the border, process them at the border, and remove them quickly, mostly within two hours.

Right now, we’re averaging about 2,500 illegal crossings a day. Again, [former DHS] Secretary Jeh Johnson said 1,000 was a bad day.

Once Title 42 goes away, that 2,500 the next day becomes a crisis, because now we have to bring them all into our facilities. Game changer. Within three or four days, our facilities will be overcrowded. Maybe even sooner than that, because we'll more than likely still have the COVID restrictions with the number of people we can hold in a facility.

And if you think about it, that really is the ideological difference. I get very frustrated when they talk about needing humane ways to deal with the migration issue.

I still say the most humane thing is to stop illegal immigration. Stop individuals from paying the cartels and smugglers thousands of dollars. Stop the vulnerable migrants from risking their lives and putting their lives in the hands of [smugglers]. Stop having individuals trafficked.

But here’s the key point, when they talk about humane what they mean is, their goal is nobody gets detained. And if you think about in 2019, between CBP and ICE, we released almost 500,000 individuals into the interior United States.

And so the overwhelming majority of those still remain here in the United States, and they’re probably going to be recipients of amnesty, expanded DACA, you name it.

Border Patrol agent Carlos Ruiz apprehends dozens of illegal aliens who have just crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico near McAllen, Texas, on April 18, 2019. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)
Border Patrol agent Carlos Ruiz apprehends dozens of illegal aliens who have just crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico near McAllen, Texas, on April 18, 2019. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

Prediction for 2021

Epoch Times: We had an unprecedented 1 million illegal crossings in 2019. What’s your prediction for this year?
Morgan: I think we could see more. Again, Title 42 is the remaining policy, the glue preventing a full-blown crisis. Instead of being able to remove 90, 95 percent immediately at the border, we’re now going to have to bring them all into our facilities, process them, become overwhelmed again, and we’re going to have to release them.

Biden is driving a crisis that’s going to pale in comparison to what we saw in 2019. In the height of 2019, ICE had over 55,000 beds and they still didn’t have enough. So they’re just simply not going to be able to apprehend and detain them, they’re going to have to let them go. Or use Alternative to Detention [often ankle bracelets]. And we know that doesn’t work. It’s a colossal failure. It gives them an opportunity to go into the interior of the United States and never be heard from again.

You’ve got this incredible pull factor that we’re going to expand DACA, give amnesty, and give you free health care. Those are all significant pull factors that didn’t exist in 2019, when we saw the unprecedented crisis back then. As soon as Title 42 falls, under those conditions of release, protect, and reward, who wouldn’t come illegally?

Epoch Times: How long do you think Title 42 is going to stand?
Morgan: I don’t know. It could go away three different ways: one, through lawsuits—it can be enjoined via the court system. Two, CDC themselves could refuse to renew it. And three, the Biden administration could rescind it.

And you can build all the temporary tents, and judges, and everything you want, and it’s not going to make a difference. At the end of the day, they’re still going to have to release individuals.

By February 2020, we had reduced the flow from Central America by 75 percent. The issue that was really driving the crisis was families. The Migrant Protection Protocols work, ACAs [regional cooperation agreements] worked.

If you’ve got somebody that’s in, let’s say, El Salvador, if they really have a valid asylum claim, what we all should want for them is to seek relief as fast as possible. So seek relief in Guatemala, seek relief in Mexico.

Why would you pay the cartels thousands and thousands of dollars and risk your life to traverse one or two countries—especially during the middle of global pandemic—if what you’re seeking is relief from state-sponsored persecution, for example?

But we know that’s not what’s driving it. It’s economics. They want to get to the United States. That’s the goal.

Agents on a U.S. Customs and Border Protection boat rescue a woman and child who got stuck attempting to cross the Rio Grande into the United States illegally at Eagle Pass, Texas, on Feb. 16, 2019. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)
Agents on a U.S. Customs and Border Protection boat rescue a woman and child who got stuck attempting to cross the Rio Grande into the United States illegally at Eagle Pass, Texas, on Feb. 16, 2019. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

Central American Countries

Epoch Times: At a recent hearing, a senator said that Central Americans come to the United States because “we make their lives miserable.” What’s your response to that?
Morgan: That’s the outrageous narrative that’s out there. We have given Central American countries financial aid for a very, very long time. CBP has been involved, not only to improve their infrastructure, but also to improve their national security. It’s very important that, for example, their ports of entry, the infrastructure, it continues to grow so that global importers have faith and confidence that goods coming and going are going to be protected.
They also have to improve the public safety and security within their countries so that global industries and stakeholders feel comfortable about making investments in their country. That’s been done year after year, and it’s been done administration after administration.

Concerned Americans

Epoch Times: With these border security changes, what can concerned Americans do?
Morgan: I would say, elections have results—2022 is going to be important. I would say make sure that your voice is heard. Make sure the politicians understand how you see the world. And we need to make sure that we’re getting the facts out there.

This is not about legal immigration. This is about illegal immigration. And until we address illegal immigration, we’re never going to be able to effectively deal with the overarching immigration issue. We are the most generous country on the face of the planet. We swear in immigrants as new U.S. citizens, a million a year, more than any other country in the globe.

We’re talking about law and order. We’re talking about the sovereignty of a nation that’s the backbone of any civilized society.

Mexico Motivation

Epoch Times: Are we going to see less motivation from Mexico to stop the flow?
Morgan: So for the first time, the United States, Mexico, Central American countries, we’ve all joined together to really address illegal migration as the regional crisis that it is. So we have unprecedented cooperation, unprecedented agreements with all of these countries. And this happened directly because of President Trump.

Let’s take a look at the caravans right now. Guatemala is doing an incredible job. The government of Mexico, incredible job. So they are still dissolving these caravans, even though they’re in the thousands and thousands.

But think about this. If you’re the Central American countries and the government of Mexico and the United States has completely shifted our policies, and now we are encouraging, we’re incentivizing, and we’re opening our borders, which is driving now the next wave of illegal immigration. At some point, if you’re Mexico, Central American countries, wouldn’t you say, “Wait a minute, why are we not only expending a lot of political capital, but a lot of our resources and funding to stop the migration that is now being caused by the United States’ policies?”

At some point, I would think they'll be like, “That’s it, we’re done.”

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Charlotte Cuthbertson is a senior reporter with The Epoch Times who primarily covers border security and the opioid crisis.
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