SAN ANTONIO — Acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Ronald Vitiello on Tuesday said federal law enforcement on the southern border have in recent months been overwhelmed processing families — and that strain in resources may be allowing other people to sneak into the U.S.
Vitiello said families are “distracting” border and immigration cops from “other parts of the mission.”
Last Saturday, Border Patrol agents working an immigration checkpoint on a highway 70 miles north of McAllen, Texas, found 15 Chinese citizens in the back of a tractor trailer.
“These Chinese nationals may have been apprehended at the border itself,” Vitiello told reporters at the Border Security Expo.
CBP estimates its agents spent more than 49,000 hours facilitating medical trips and watching patients while they are in hospitals from late December through late February. The loss of agents working in law enforcement roles was equivalent to losing 25 Border Patrol agents for an entire year.
Part of the issue for Border Patrol is the need to transport people who arrive in remote regions of the U.S.-Mexico border. For example, the closest Border Patrol station to Antelope Wells, N.M., where more than a dozen groups of 100 people or more have arrived since October, is located 95 miles north in Lordsburg, N.M. All migrants who show up in Antelope Wells — where just one agent is based — must be transported by border agents to Lordsburg, as well as undergo medical screenings.
The chief’s other concern was about the “potential threat out there,” or how dangerous foreign individuals or groups could try to exploit security vulnerabilities at the southern border.
“So, the patrol is distracted,” he continued. “And then, we’re not able to pursue the cases that we want to on the deportation side because we’ve had this surge.”
ICE personnel also have been inundated filling out paperwork and processing the record-high number of families that CBP is taking into custody the past few months that it has affected the agency’s ability to go after undocumented immigrants with criminal records. Vitiello did not state to what numerical extent it has affected removal numbers.
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