On June 20, 2019, the Border Security, Facilitation, & Operations subcommittee of the House Committee on Homeland Security held a hearing called Examining The Department Of Defense's Deployment To The U.S.-Mexico Border. One of the witnesses called to testify was Carla Provost, Chief, U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security.
She began her opening statement by saying that she would “speak to the critical support our DOD partners are providing us each and every day”, then shared the following observations:
- Securing the border requires maintaining operational control (OPCON) over the boundary area. OPCON depends on the right combination of technology, physical barriers and manpower to identify, impede and respond to the illegal cross-border activities.
- The U.S. Border Patrol has been forced to divert 40% to 60% of available manpower from the border, in order to process and care for the nearly 435,000 families and children that have flooded across the southern border so far in 2019.
- Think about the number of Border Patrol agents who must abandon their post to assist, when a group of over 1,000 illegal aliens walk into the U.S. at 4:00 in the morning. This happened just last month, and it set a record for the largest such group in the 95 year history of the Border Patrol. With 193 of these large groups so far in 2019, operations are now being overwhelmed on a daily basis.
- While all this is going on, the normal border security mission has to be performed. Many illegal aliens and smugglers are trying to evade law enforcement. The Border Patrol has apprehended more than 224,000 single adult aliens on the southern border; this represents a 28% increase compared to the previous year. The Border Patrol has arrested more than 6,800 criminal aliens and gang members, and they are seeing more high-volume drug seizures; a sign that smugglers are becoming more brazen. In just one incident, at the Rio Grande Valley, they seized more than 700 pounds of cocaine crossing the river. Only a week before this statement was made, agents in the Rio Grande Valley again seized a large load of methamphetamine, with an estimated value of over $5.6 million.
- For these reasons, the Border Patrol considers the support received from the Department of Defense (DOD) to be invaluable. With fewer agents available to maintain situational awareness along the border, DOD camera operators have contributed to more than 15,600 apprehensions, and the seizure of more than 3800 pounds of marijuana, and $2,300 in currency. On the ground and in the air, this situational awareness helps keep the limited number of agents deployed on the border safe and aware of illegal activity. So far in 2019, the Border Patrol has observed more than 100,000 people who have successfully evaded arrest — a five-year high in what they call “gotaways” — and these are just the ones that they know about.
- Even with support from the DOD, Provost added, she fears that they are missing far many others. This state of affairs shows not only the value of situational awareness, but also that it's only effective when combined with a timely law enforcement response. Additionally ,the National Guard, through Operation Guardian Support, is assisting CBP operations in a range of areas, including air support, radio communications, maintenance, and brush clearing. In fiscal year 2019 to-date, the National Guard has provided more than 5,800 air hours, and contributed to more than 94,000 apprehensions, and the seizure of more than 24,000 pounds of marijuana, 231 pounds of methamphetamine, and $7,000 in currency.
Carla Provost concluded her opening remarks by stating that for so long as the border crisis continues, she will continue to ask for support from the Department of Defense. She then added:
Additionally, I will continue to ask Congress to address the gaps in our immigration framework that encourage this flow. Smugglers falsely advertise a safe journey to the border, misleading families that anyone who arrives with a child will not be deported under current U.S. policies. While smugglers primarily target the Northern Triangle [Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador], family units from 52 countries have illegally crossed the southern border so far this year. In just two weeks, more than 740 individuals from African nations, primarily family units, have been apprehended in the Del Rio [Texas] sector alone. compared to only 108 who crossed the southern border in the first eight months of the fiscal year. Families from countries like Brazil, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Cuba, Peru, Romania and Vietnam, are taking the same pathways through Central America and Mexico, to take advantage of the gaps in our system.