Politics & Policy

Jeh Johnson Visits Border, Censors Border Patrol

Homeland Security head under pressure as illegal immigration surge worsens.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson visited the Border Patrol’s McAllen Station in South Texas Friday morning, but his surprise visit frustrated a labor union representing federal workers who have to deal with the influx of unattended immigrant children from Central America to the Rio Grande Valley.

Chris Cabrera, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council Local 3307 in the Rio Grande Valley, told National Review Online he was disheartened not to receive advance notice of Johnson’s arrival. Cabrera said he was allowed to tour the facility with the secretary earlier this morning but not allowed to take any photos of the conditions inside the station.

“It’s severely overcrowded in there,” Cabrera says. “But not just in there, all of our stations are overcrowded—at least triple the capacity if not more.”

Cabrera says the exact increase in unaccompanied children and family units illegally emigrating from Central America this year may have been unforeseeable, but the problem was easily spotted.

“I know for a fact we saw this coming,” Cabrera says. “We have known since November that we were going to see a big influx this year. Not necessarily this big, but we knew it was going to be bigger than last year.”

Another official at the government employee union criticized the Obama administration’s handling of the flood of immigrants. Albert Spratte, the sergeant-at-arms of the National Border Patrol Council Local 3307 in the Rio Grande Valley, says he thinks federal officials didn’t believe forecasts of this problem years in advance. “I just don’t think they, until the last moment, really believed it, and then by that time it was too late,” Spratte says. “A lot of this is playing catch up.”

Johnson exited the McAllen Border Patrol Station away from press waiting near the entrance to the facility. Federal officials denied media access to the facility and to Johnson’s entourage. Johnson’s posse included White House Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Muñoz, the Commandant of the Coast Guard Admiral Paul Zukunft and a host of officials from FEMA, the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Health and Human Services, according to a DHS press release. 

In a statement after touring the facility, Johnson explained that he was “exploring every lawful option to stem the tide.” “We are building additional detention capacity for adults who are apprehended crossing our border illegally with their children, and will increase the number of expedited removals from among this population, consistent with our laws,” Johnson said in a statement.

Border Patrol officials did not have confidence that Johnson’s visit would help solve the crisis and stem the tidal wave of illegal immigration. Cabrera says he does not have high hopes for positive results from Johnson’s visit to McAllen. “I don’t think anything is going to get done as far as a sweeping change or an effective change, but you know, hopefully he proves us wrong,” Cabrera says.

— Ryan Lovelace is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.

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