Dec 6, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Top border officials say releases attract more migrants

A Border Patrol agent directs immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

Border Patrol chiefs have acknowledged to Congress that the release of migrants into nearby communities is an incentive for others to attempt illegal border crossings, according to transcripts obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: Republican demands for changes to border policies — including the legal mechanism known as "parole" that allows some migrants to be released into the U.S. — have stalled the Senate's $111 billion emergency package for Ukraine, Israel, the Indo-Pacific and border security.

  • Urging Republicans to put aside "petty, partisan, angry politics" to help Ukraine defeat Russia, President Biden said Wednesday that he's "willing to make significant compromises on the border."
  • "We need to fix the broken border system. It is broken," Biden acknowledged.

What they're saying: Axios was provided exclusive excerpts of transcribed interviews with seven current or now-former Border Patrol chiefs or deputy chiefs, which were conducted this year by House Homeland Security Committee staffers from both parties.

  • "[T]he belief that they are going to be released with no consequence is certainly something that many migrants tell our agents" as a reason for crossing, Deputy Chief Patrol Agent Dustin Caudle, who oversees a section of the border near Yuma, Arizona, said in a September interview.
  • Tucson Chief Patrol Agent John Modlin echoed that sentiment in an interview in July, adding: "If not, they would be … dressed head to toe in camouflage, running as fast as they could, staying up in the mountains or in the valleys to avoid detection by our system."

Worth noting: Caudle also blamed smugglers. "The human life has very little value to a majority of smugglers," he said, according to another excerpt provided by a Democratic committee aide. "They care about getting paid.… A lot of them do sell a false narrative that they're going to be guaranteed release."

The big picture: The Biden administration has turned to various forms of "parole," which is different from parole in the criminal justice sense, to address an array of immigration challenges.

  • The practice of releasing migrants into the U.S. to await immigration court proceedings is not new — and was used for surges during the Trump administration as well.
  • But officials told congressional staffers that the large numbers being released was not something that they had regularly experienced.

By the numbers: In March, Axios reported more than 700,000 migrants and asylum seekers had been permitted entry into the U.S at the discretion of Homeland Security officials through parole. That figure has only ballooned since then.

  • On Tuesday, more than 7,300 recently arrived migrants were released into border communities with directions to check in with ICE or — at most — given a notice to appear in immigration court in the distant future, according to internal data obtained by Axios.
  • That same day, a staggering 12,000 people were encountered by border officials either crossing illegally or at ports of entry.

The other side: The Biden administration has already significantly increased fast-tracked deportations, especially for migrant families who cross the border illegally.

  • Even so, limited detention space and removal flights — along with large volumes of people arriving daily — have created backlogs that force border officials to release detainees.
  • If Border Patrol does not release migrants, ICE will eventually release them anyway.

Between the lines: Border dynamics are complicated. Migration flows are driven by a combination of changing factors that both push people to leave their home country and draw them to a particular destination.

  • Growing political unrest, gang violence and economic insecurity are driving many people to flee Central and South American countries.
  • Knowing family members or friends in the U.S., a relatively strong economy, established smuggling routes and a backlogged immigration system function as additional incentives.

What to watch: The release of the transcripts is part of a broader effort by House Homeland Security Chair Mark Green (R-Tenn.) to highlight the role U.S. border policies play in the historic migration patterns we've seen in recent years, according to a committee spokesperson.

  • Republicans are quick to blame DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Biden for allowing a large number of migrants to live and work in the U.S. after illegally crossing the border and while waiting in immigration backlogs.
  • "Chairman Green has been very clear that DHS should not get another dime of taxpayer funding until it correctly uses the tens of billions Congress has already allocated this year," the spokesperson said.
  • Forcing Border Patrol "to make use of expanded mass-parole and to release illegal aliens into communities across the country with court dates years in the future instead of allowing them to fulfill their mission to secure the border is taking an emotional toll," Green told Axios in a statement.
  • "This, of course, also encourages more people to break our laws and enter the country illegally," the chairman added.
Go deeper