Press Briefing by Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan
November 14, 2019
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
10:32 A.M. EST
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: Good morning. Today I'd like to talk about the latest southwest border enforcement statistics, focusing primarily on the month of October.
But, first, if you recall, earlier this year we sounded an alarm – actually, quite a bit – with respect to the border crisis and asking Congress repeatedly to act to fix the loopholes in our broken immigration system, and close the gaps driving this crisis. Unfortunately, not a single piece of meaningful legislation has been brought forward.
And as a result, this country stood by and watched as the crisis worsened, as we reached our peak in May of over 140,000 apprehensions in a single month. However, in the continued absence of congressional action, the President, along with his administration, as well as our hardworking men and women of the Customs and Border Protection and our partner agencies, has taken action.
Through continued engagement with the government of Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries, we have initiated a network of initiatives, policies, and of regulations to stem the flow of the migration. Together, we are approaching this as the regional crisis that it is, and we have seen incredible success.
Just a few weeks ago, I described how we experienced a significant decline in apprehensions in the last four months of the fiscal year 2019, with September at that point marking the lowest number of enforcement actions during the entire year. And that was a little over 52,000.
But I'm happy to report this month, the month of October, has continued with that trend, reaching a 14 percent decline compared to September, with just over 42,000 apprehensions, defying typical seasonal trends once again over the past seven years. And this represents an overall decrease of almost 70 percent since the peak in May of this year. This is a significant decline.
Let me put this in perspective real quick. By mid-year, CBP was detaining almost 20,000 detainees in custody. Now we average less than 3,500 daily. At the height of the crisis, CBP apprehensions exceeded 5,000 in a single day. Now we're averaging just over 1,300. And we all but ended catch and release. Migrants can no longer expect to be allowed into the interior of the United States based on fraudulent asylum claims. And more importantly, we're sending a message to their criminal organizations to stop exploiting these migrants and their profit-making schemes.
And, additionally, as we've had to navigate unprecedented judicial activism from lower courts and the congressional inaction I talked about, the numbers show this administration has and continues to take bold action to address this crisis. And the numbers show it's working.
To illustrated this further, we saw a shift in the demographics in this October. For the first time in nearly 18 months, Mexico was a country of origin for the majority of apprehensions and inadmissible aliens rather than from the Northern Triangle countries, with single adults surpassing families. The headlines – got it: The numbers are low; the numbers are down.
But while we made great progress, I want to remind the American people that there still remains a humanitarian crisis at our southern border, and, importantly, a national security crisis along our southwest border as well. Cartels – they continue to add to their multibillion-dollar organization on the backs of these migrants.
As I said yesterday at the Senate hearing, former DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson has said multiple times – and I'm sure most of you heard this – that a thousand apprehensions a day is a bad day. He's right. We're still seeing daily apprehensions far exceeding that benchmark that Jeh Johnson set when he was Secretary.
And as I sit here today as a law enforcement professional, I'm absolutely perplexed why Congress cannot come together on a bipartisan manner to fix this. We know the cartels and human smuggling organizations are exploiting the migrants making the journey here, often abused, deprived of adequate food, water, and medical attention during their journey.
We know this because, in FY19, we averaged 71 hospital visits per day throughout the year. These smuggling organizations leave the migrants in rivers to die, they leave them in open harsh terrain to die, and they leave them in tractor-trailers to die. The Border Patrol conducted over 4,900 rescues of migrants who the smugglers had abandoned to die.
We also encountered 24 bodies along the southern border, including skeletal remains. We know children are being rented and recycled, and presented as fake families.
So, as you can clearly see, our job is not over – not until we shut down the cartels and the human smuggling organizations and put them out of business. And the President is committed to doing just that.
That's why our success at addressing the humanitarian crisis should not be overshadowed by the real national security crisis we face. Both crises are interconnected and they have to be attacked that way. Transnational criminal organizations, they don't just exploit the migrants themselves, they also flood our country with dangerous drugs.
Last year, CBP officers and Border Patrol agents seized more than 750,000 pounds of illicit narcotics. And our Air and Marine Operations contributed to the seizure of additional 285,000 pounds of cocaine. Seizures of the four hard narcotics – heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, and fentanyl – all went up last year. Last year – and I know we've talked about this before – but over 68,000 deaths in this country due to illicit narcotic use. And methamphetamine has seen a resurgence in this country. Superlabs in Mexico are taking over the production and flooding the United States with cheaper and purer forms of meth.
Nationwide, in October of this year, CBP intercepted more than 54,000 pounds of drugs. That's 45 percent higher than this time last year. And here's a couple of stats that, really, should shock every American in this country: We seized over 9,700 pounds of methamphetamine. That's up over 90 percent the same time last year. We seized 284 pounds of fentanyl in this month alone – an 84 percent increase from this time last year.
And last month, on the southwest border, CBP seized more than 47,000 pounds of drugs – a 50 percent increase from this time last year. And we intercepted double the amount of methamphetamine last month than we did last year on the southwest border.
The cartels and smuggling organizations continue to exploit our immigration system and enforcement vulnerabilities as we're pulled off the line, time and time again, to deal with the humanitarian crisis, increasing the threat to our national security. Last year, more than 150,000 migrants who illegally entered this country got away.
The illicit narcotics the transnational criminal organizations are flooding the U.S. with are making their way to every town, city, and state in this country. It isn't just a border issue. Make no mistake: If your city, town, or state has a meth problem, it came from the southwest border.
So when we talk about the importance of the resources we need – including the wall, and the 76 miles of new wall system that's been built, or the more than 450 new miles of wall we anticipate having constructed by the end of 2020 – it's about increasing the CBP's operational capacity to address both the humanitarian and national security crisis we face at the southwest border, improving our ability to safeguard the United States, uphold the rule of law, and maintain the integrity of the system, and put the cartels out of business. That's our goal, that's this President's goal, and we're getting there.
With that, I'll take some questions.
Q Is cartels your main focus? And has the administration given any consideration, in the wake of the slaughter of the Mormon family, to labeling the cartels a terrorist organization?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: So, what I'll say, Griff, is we are absolutely, collectively, from the USG, having those discussions on what else can we do to absolutely go out and target the cartels, to disrupt them and do as best we can to dismantle them. We still have a ways to go.
I think what happened a couple weeks ago, with the U.S. citizens being killed, specifically the children, it showed that the cartels are alive and well. It shows that they have the ability to adapt their – we call them the "TTPs," right? – their techniques, tactics, and procedures – to continue to thrive.
They're continuing to war with each other for control over the plaza and the smuggling routes. And why? Because it's so profitable. The numbers I – the numbers I just gave out, with respect to the number of drugs we seized – think about that: That's just what we seized. It's hard to even fathom the amount of drugs that are still pouring through and getting into our country – again, 68,000 deaths that occurred last year.
So we're having discussions on what we can do, from a United States government approach, to absolutely go after and target these cartels.
Yes, sir. Yes, sir.
Q Do you have any update on how many people have been sent back as part of the MPP? And do you have any concerns about reports we're hearing from the Mexican side about – that once people are returned, they're vulnerable to kidnapping and extortion and other violent crimes?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: So, right now, about 50,000 individuals are over there at MPP. Let me start with a couple of facts, and then I'll address the anecdotal information on the violence.
So, with respect to facts – so, I said in my opening – so, in the peak of May, we had about 20,000 individuals in our custody. Right now, we have about 3,500. We had, on a given day, over 5,000 apprehensions in a single day. Now we're a little over 1,300. At the peak of May, we had 2,700 children in our custody. Now we average about 100.
So make no mistake: These initiatives, including MPP, have absolutely been a game-changer. And it has been a significant part in our facilities now not being overcrowded with 20,000 individuals, with the apprehension numbers going down. So, from a law enforcement perspective, as the Acting Commissioner of CBP, MPP has absolutely been successful.
Now, to address the question on the anecdotal stuff we're hearing about violence: So, the Department of State – CBP was part of that. We just went down there last week. Actually, I think it's been a week and half ago. And we were there with IOM – the International Organization for Migration. We were there with immigration advocate organizations, faith-based organizations. The Department of State led this, and we also were there with the government of Mexico personnel. And they visited several shelters.
And two of the shelters – the main shelters they visited – one was operated by a faith-based organization and the other by the government of Mexico. Both of those shelters were found to have persistent law enforcement present, adequate medical attention, adequate food, and the safety was okay.
IOM, which also is providing services for those migrants who are no longer wanting to wait in Mexico – free of charge – providing them services to return them to their country free of charge. During that process – it's a very methodical, structured process – IOM actually interviews those individuals. And what IOM told our personnel on that visit is that they're not hearing any complaints of people fearing for their lives when they're in – or their safety – when they're in that shelter environment.
And keep in mind also: At any given time, if anybody in the MPP process that's waiting in Mexico fears for their safety concern, all they have to do is go to a U.S. port of entry and claim that, and they will be allowed to go through that process.
Lastly, what we are hearing is that, unfortunately, some of the individuals in the MPP program are actually going outside the shelter environment. They're reengaging with the cartels because they're tired of waiting. And that's what we're hearing is when some of that further abuse and exploitation has happened. We're seeing, actually, a 9 percent recidivism rate of those individuals that are MPP are actually reengaging the cartel to illegally enter the United States. So –
Q Mr. Morgan, you are, of course, the Acting CBP Commissioner. There are a number of senior officials at DHS that have "Acting" in their title. Are there any senior officials at DHS who have actually been confirmed by the Senate?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: So, I tell you what: I don't get up and – that's of no concern for me. When I get up every day, the fact that I have "Acting" in front of my title is irrelevant. It's irrelevant to what I do, why I do it, and how I do it, or how successful or not successful I am.
So, when I get up every single day, I accomplish the mission, I'm trying to do the best I can to get the resources for the men and women of CBP and support who my bosses are, regardless of whether they have "Acting" in front of them or not.
So, from my seat, it's not relevant.
Q Right. Are there any, though, senior officials at DHS who have been confirmed by the Senate, to your knowledge?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: So, I'd have to go through that. But, yeah, there are a couple.
Q Yeah. Is that problematic, in terms of carrying out your mission?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: No. I just said it's not. Again, there has not been a single day that I'm here that the "Acting" in front of my name has prohibited me from carrying out my job and trying to get the resources for the men and women of CBP to do their job.
So – yes, sir.
Q Would you like to be nominated for your position, Mr. Morgan? Would you like to be nominated for your position?
Q Thank you. (Inaudible) –
Q Would you like to be nominated for your position?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: Here's what I'll say, is: I'm here to serve the President of the United States in whatever capacity he thinks I can best serve. And so if he thinks I can best serve his vision and this administration's vision in the "Acting" capacity, that's what I'll do. If he thinks I can best serve it in another capacity, I'll do that as well.
Yep. Yes, sir.
Q Following up on Jon's question, a recent report obtained by courts showed that arrests of CBP officers and agents are at a five-year high and that CBP officers and agents are arrested at a much higher rate than other law enforcement agencies. Do you think that the lack of stable Senate-confirmed leadership has had any effect on the officers and has anything to do with it?
And why do you think that your officers are being arrested more often than other law enforcement agencies?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: So I'll have to get some more fidelity on that. So that's not my understanding, that the arrests have actually increased. A high – a rate actually – my understanding is they've actually decreased a little bit. But regardless is –
Q Well, this is up –
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: – one arrest –
Q This is up to fiscal year 2018. They had been going down, and then they went up some –
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: I understand. Again, my understanding is that they continue to go down. But I'll get some more fidelity on that.
But that really doesn't matter, because one arrest is too many, right, of a law enforcement officer. So, here, we've talked about this before. So whether someone is Acting or not – I got to tell you, the professionalism of the men and women of the CBP – of this organization that I am the Acting Commissioner of – whether I have "Acting" in front of my name, I think is of no moment to them when they get up every single day doing their job.
Q Do you have any –
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: What I think – I'm trying to answer your question. What – what my belief and my understanding of talking to the troops is – what really is frustrating for them is the fact that every day that they get up there and they're risking their lives every single day trying to protect and safeguard this country, they're enforcing the law that this Congress has enacted – the rule of law, every single day they're trying to get out there –
Q In understand that. Aren't they –
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: – and so – let me finish. I'm trying to answer your question. So –
Q – (inaudible) breaking the law?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: Can I answer your question without being interrupted?
So what I'm trying to say is, what I've been told by them – what really frustrates them is the fact that when they're out there doing their job every single day, it's the rhetoric that's out there – the rhetoric that comes from the mainstream media, the rhetoric that comes from our –
Q Sir, this isn't rhetoric. This is a report from 2018.
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: – the rhetoric – the rhetoric that comes from our congressional leaders that when they say stuff like they call them "Nazis," and they say that we're making people drink form toilets or running concentration camps, that's –
Q So they're breaking the law because they're being called mean things by the media?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: – that's – that's what gets them frustrated.
No, you asked me what gets them frustrated. So – right? And so what I'm trying to tell you is, is that the Acting – whether somebody is "Acting" or not has no – no moment of whether they're going to go out and be arrested. So what I think is, the frustration that's out there sometimes leads them, right, to –
Q To commit crimes? Is that why?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: No, not crimes, because a lot of the arrests – some of the arrests are – a lot of the arrests we see are DUIs. And so I think we're trying to do our best. So it's really a resiliency problem. And so that's what we're really trying to take a look at, is the resiliency and how can we better get to these individuals through resiliency to make sure that when they are experiencing frustration, when they are experiencing stress, that we're able to get to them before they cross that line.
Q The President has promoted the construction of a border wall as one of the key deterrent efforts to try to keep migrants from coming into this country illegally. Just for a status update for us: How many miles of wall has been constructed? Not wall that's replacing old wall, but new wall has been built to this point.
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: So, 78 miles of new wall has been built.
Q So, much of that, obviously, is replacing wall that formerly existed, the President said was insufficient. How many miles of wall now exist where there was no wall whatsoever?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: So, again, my – my response to that is: Every mile of wall that's being built is a new mile of wall.
Q No disagreements. But how many – but just for a breakdown, how many miles formerly existed that have now been renovated or replaced? And how many miles – new, where nothing existed?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: So, right now, the 78 miles that have been built have been built where there was an existing form of barrier. We just started breaking ground in RGV, where we're building miles of new wall where there has been no structure there at all.
Q So that's just now starting the construction of new wall up against –
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: That's correct.
Q – (inaudible) now?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: That's correct.
Q Thank you.
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: Yes, ma'am.
Q I believe you said – Commissioner, I believe you said last time that land acquisition was one of the things making it challenging. Can you give us an update on your efforts to acquire land and what other challenges you guys are facing?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: Yeah, land acquisition is going to continue to be a challenge. I'll give you an example: So you could have a mile of land – again, on the southwest border – where it goes back in time, and you could have multiple owners, from 10 to 100 owners that have a piece of that land. Sometimes the records go way back; the records weren't that great. And it's a challenge to go through that process.
Now, there's also areas like Laredo, for example, that were actually, you know, working with the city on the design, the structure, and even where it can be placed to make sure that we're taking their considerations into the process as well.
So it's a challenge, but again, I still think that we're on track to get the land we need for 450 miles. What I will say is that there are lawsuits out there. So, again, we've seen a lot of the judicial activisms out there, and land acquisition is not going to be immune from that as well. So –
MR. GIDLEY: Last question.
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: Yes, ma'am.
Q Mr. Morgan, I've seen a case where a mother and daughter were kidnapped after being returned to Mexico by the United States. They were then later given asylum in the United States. How does that not show that a mother who had a credible asylum claim was subjected to unnecessary violence by the United States?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: So I don't know anything about that specific case.
Q But what about a case like that –
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: So –
Q – where someone is kidnapped in Mexico while waiting in the United States for their asylum claim? They're now given asylum in the United States, having to have been kidnapped while waiting in Mexico. What do you make of a claim like that?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: So go through that scenario one more time.
Q I've talked to a woman who – a mother and her daughter who were returned to Mexico by the United States whilst trying to seek asylum. They were then given asylum and were allowed to come to the United States. My question is: How does that not show that that mother, or someone like her, with a credible asylum claim, was then given – was then subjected to unnecessary violence in Mexico?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: Again, what I'll go back to is what I talked to before, is that we're working with the government of Mexico. They have promised – right? – they have committed that they will do everything they can to provide adequate protection and shelter for those individuals waiting in Mexico under the MPP program.
And again, what we have shown, there have been – again, Department of State is engaged, IOM is engaged, non-profit organizations are involved, advocacy groups are involved, and –
Q Was this mother subjected to unnecessary violence by the United States?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: By the United States? I –
Q Because we returned – because the country returned her to Mexico –
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: Yeah, so – I'm – I'm trying to –
Q – and she was kidnapped while waiting in Mexico.
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: I'm trying to answer that question, right? And so we have to work with Mexico. Just like the United States, here, we have certain responsibilities to make sure to safeguard and protect those people in our custody. Mexico has that same responsibility.
And again, we are working with them to help them in any way we can. I just went through of how we're going over there. We're visiting those sites. We're seeing persistent law enforcement presence. We're seeing the national guard presence there. And we're seeing from IOM – that's saying, "Hey we're not seeing that."
And again, if someone is in fear for their safety or their life, they can come to a port of entry and claim that, and we'll take them in.
Again, what we are seeing – what we are seeing is that the individuals that leave that shelter environment and reengage with the cartels to potentially be re-smuggled in the United States legally, that's where we're seeing and we're hearing some of the anecdotal stories. That's happening as well.
Q So what do you say to advocates who say that they are –
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: Thank you.
10:55 A.M. EST
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