A senior Border Patrol official is warning that the immigration situation at the southern border could return to “crisis level” if courts block Trump administration policies intended to deter heavy flows of migrants attempting to enter the country illegally.
“We will go back, mark the words, we will go back to the crisis level that we had before,” said Brian Hastings, the Border Patrol’s chief of law enforcement operations. “It is kind of a new norm. We’re at risk at any time.”
Over the fiscal year that ended September 30, the Border Patrol apprehended 859,510 migrants attempting to cross the U.S.–Mexico border illegally, as well as more than 110,000 people attempting to enter legally but who were deemed inadmissible.
The situation came to a head in May, when arrests between ports of entry increased for the fourth straight month to 132,887, up from 99,304 arrests in April.
Illegal border crossings spiked to similar or higher levels in the early 2000s, but most of those migrants were single Mexican men who were easier to deport than the thousands of Central American families, many with young children, who have fled poverty and violence in their home countries and showed up at the U.S. border in recent years.
Hastings offered praise for the job immigration agents have done handling the unprecedented circumstances.
“I am incredibly proud of the agents,” Hastings said. “They have been vilified, but they deserve to be thanked because we have never, ever dealt with anything like this before.”
The administration has attracted fierce criticism for its hardline immigration policies, including several that have been blocked by courts. Federal courts have issued conflicting rulings on the administration’s “safe third country” rule, which would deny entry to asylum seekers who passed through a third country without seeking asylum there first. Another rule requiring migrants to wait in Mexico while their asylum claims are adjudicated has also been challenged.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said in August that border crossings have declined 43 percent since May and that DHS is working with Central American countries to conduct an “aggressive effort against human smugglers” and protect migrants who need asylum.