A woman from Honduras attends to her sick son as they settle in at a migrant shelter in Tijuana, Mexico, in 2018. / Photo by David Maung

An influx of asylum-seekers as well as new policies enacted by the Trump administration have significantly changed the role of U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials. That’s true of both the agents at official ports of entry, and those who cover the areas between designated border crossings.

Agents increasingly deal with children and families. They’re providing services they haven’t had to before. And their facilities were not built for today’s U.S.-Mexico border reality: Nearly 1 million people — mostly families and children — apprehended in fiscal year 2019.

Detentions of child migrants have reached record levels, the New York Times reports. U.S. immigration authorities apprehended 76,020 minors, mostly from Central America, traveling without their parents in the 2019 fiscal year that ended in September. That’s 52 percent more than the previous 2018 fiscal year.

In July, one Border Patrol agent in McAllen, Texas, described the new reality of caring for so many children to ProPublica:

I’d see kids crying because they want to see their dads, and I couldn’t console them because I had 500 to 600 other kids to watch over and make sure they’re not getting in trouble. All I could do was make sure they’re physically OK. I couldn’t let them see their fathers because that was against the rules. I might not like the rules. I might think that what we’re doing wasn’t the correct way to hold children. But what was I going to do? Walk away? What difference would that make to anyone’s life but mine?

In a journal entry, the agent described the Border Patrol detention center where he worked as a “scene from a zombie apocalypse movie,” according to ProPublica.

These officials have taken on other responsibilities, too. They now conduct preliminary asylum interviews, something that used to be done by U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services asylum officers.

Since Border Patrol agents started conducting initial asylum screenings in June, they have approved fewer than half of the nearly 2,000 screenings they have completed, Buzzfeed found. The 47 percent passage rate by border agents is significantly lower than the rate when it was handled by USCIS officers, who typically have an 80 percent passage rate in initial credible fear screenings.

CBP officials also have had to manage many of the logistics of the Migration Protection Protocols — or so-called “Remain in Mexico” policy — which requires asylum-seekers to await their asylum proceedings in Mexico. And there has been a lot of scrutiny on how they’ve been implementing the program.

In at least 14 cases, CBP officials sent people with completed court cases in the “Remain in Mexico” program back to Mexico using documents with fake court dates, the San Diego Union-Tribune found last week.

An immigrant family and their attorneys also sued several U.S. governmental agencies, including Customs and Border Protection, alleging authorities are not allowing asylum-seekers adequate access to legal counsel, the Union-Tribune reports.

Many asylum-seekers in Tijuana and Mexicali say they were sent to Mexico even after telling U.S. immigration officials that their persecutors would have access to them there, according to a new report from University of California San Diego professor Tom Wong.

How Local Border Issues Differ From National Border Politics

Mayors of 15 cities along the U.S.-Mexico border met in San Diego last week to strengthen binational ties and work on cross-border issues like trade, sewage and security, the Union-Tribune reports.

The city leaders signed two resolutions: one urging the passage of a new trade agreement — NAFTA’s replacement — between the United States, Mexico and Canada, and another supporting a reauthorization of North American Development Bank investments in border infrastructure projects.

Those funds from the development bank could go toward building projects that stop cross-border sewage from closing San Diego beaches and help Tijuana with other water issues.

Tijuana and Rosarito began rationing water Monday because aging infrastructure won’t allow Tijuana to easily pump water from the Colorado River. Roughly 140,000 households and businesses will go without water service for up to 36 hours every four days, the Union-Tribune reports.

Mexico also recently said it would rehabilitate five pumping stations in the border city of Tijuana to prevent cross-border sewage spills, the Associated Press and NBC 7 report.

New Insights Into Smuggling

As the land border between the United States and Mexico has become increasingly fortified by people, technology and barriers, smugglers have turned to a new frontier in recent years: the ocean.

Maritime smuggling attempts increased 60 percent between fiscal year 2018 and fiscal year 2019, the Union-Tribune reports.

Since Oct. 1 — the start of fiscal year 2020 — there have been 35 maritime smuggling attempts locally, along with 163 arrests and 848 pounds of contraband seized in U.S. waters, according to the Union-Tribune.

But smugglers haven’t completely given up on land. They’re now sawing through and scaling Trump’s border barrier, the Washington Post reports. This shouldn’t come entirely as a surprise, as KPBS obtained a government report last year showing that all of the border wall prototypes built in Otay Mesa were vulnerable to at least one breaching technique.

  • More than 60 percent of people convicted of smuggling in federal courts in recent years have been U.S. citizens. (Washington Post)

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Maya was Voice of San Diego’s Associate Editor of Civic Education. She reported on marginalized communities in San Diego and oversees Voice’s explanatory...

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