CBP Chief Mark Morgan defends his agency from accusations of mistreatment of detainees

On July 30, 2019, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan testified before the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee at a full-committee hearing entitled Unprecedented Migration at the U.S. Southern Border: What Is Required to Improve Conditions?. In his opening statement, Morgan described how his agency has been overwhelmed by the immigration crisis at the southern border. Following is a transcript of his opening statement before the Senate Committee.

Mark Morgan's Opening Statement

Chairman Johnson, Ranking Member Peters, and Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. I'd like to begin with a story: On May 30, four patrol agents from the Del Rio sector saw a group of undocumented migrants crossing the Rio Grande in Texas. The agents watched as smugglers carried a paraplegic man to the river, and callously threw him in. The paraplegic man, of course immediately began to drown. Fighting the strong river current, agents were able to reach the drowning victim and safely bring him to shore.

Had agents not been there, he would have been added to the 172 deaths discovered along the southwest border, in desolate locations and rivers, resulting from the dangerous trip and complete disregard for human life at the hands of smugglers. This is one of more than four thousand rescues performed by CBP this year, with Border Patrol leading the way.

This is who the men and women of the United States Customs and Border Protection are. They risk their lives every single day, to help and protect whomever is in distress. The don't ask what the person's nationality is, or whether they're trying to illegally enter this country. They simply see a human being needing help, and that's exactly what they provide them.

Critics of CBP Detention Centers are Sharply Rebuked

The men and women of CBP are not running “concentration camps”, making those in our custody drink from toilets, nor denying them access to toothbrushes. That, is simple not true. This is the kind of irresponsible rhetoric that they have to endure from both the media, and even some of our own Congressional leaders. It's unjust, and does nothing to bring us closer to resolving one of the most divisive issues that we face in our country.

Stories of agents saving lives, from the drowning in the Rio Grande, dying of dehydration in the desert, and suffering in stash houses or at the hands of smugglers, that goes unreported. The demonizing of law enforcement professionals, must stop. These false, misinformed, and overheated attacks, are demoralizing, and serve to further deteriorate the public's understanding and perception of what the true issues are, and what needs to be done, to end this crisis.

Unjust Criticism Deflects Attention From the Real Emergency

We should be coming together to focus our efforts on the real enemy: The cartels and smugglers who make billions of dollars at the expense of an extremely vulnerable population, while exploiting the loopholes in our immigration legal framework, to facilitate their operation.

Over the past year, Homeland Security leadership has repeatedly told Congress — and the press — that we have an emergency on our hands. We have provided statistics about the alarming and unprecedented increase in apprehensions. That number is over 800,000 year-to-date. We have explained how the demographics of this mass migration are unlike previous arrivals, and how families and children from Central America present significantly different challenges, with regard to their care and processing.

Over 450,000 of these apprehensions were family units, and over 80,000 were unaccompanied children. Combined, that's over 300,000 children have entered our custody since October 1st of last year. These numbers are staggering, unprecedented, and have overwhelmed every aspect of our border and immigration enforcement system.

Last week, I met with the Ministers of Security from the Northern Triangle countries, who all, all of them expressed their collective frustration that “the future of their countries are leaving for America” and “they want their children back”.

We, at DHS [Department of Homeland Security], we are comforting infants, we're taking the sick to the hospital; averaging over 800 hospital visits per day. We are expanding our medical care, ensuring children are provided medical screenings, we're building soft-sided facilities to provide a more adequate environment for families and children, costing tens of millions of dollars per month to operate. We are providing food, clothing, and other basic necessities.

We have pulled agents form the border security mission, to help process the massive volume of migrants. In some sectors, up to 50 percent of agents are pulled off the line, to support the extraordinary humanitarian effort along our southwest border. We have pulled agents from our northern and coastal duty stations, we have pulled more than 700 officers away from ports, we have called for volunteers from all across the government, to help us manage this surge of humanity.

Humanitarian Aid Only Addresses the Symptoms of the Crisis

The recent supplemental: It helped, but as we've been saying, this is merely treating the symptoms of this crisis — it does not cure the cause. Smugglers openly advertise a safe and legal journey to the United States. They tell migrants and their families that there is a policy in the United States, that anyone who arrives with a child will not be deported. We have stats and facts to show that's exactly what's being communicated, and our laws support that perception.

If there are not specific and meaningful changes in our laws, our detention facilities will continue to be overwhelmed, our personnel will continue to be diverted from their primary missions to safeguard this country, legitimate trade and travel will continue to suffer, our ability to prevent dangerous narcotics and criminals from illegally entering our country will continue to be greatly diminished, and smugglers, like the ones who threw the paraplegic man into the Rio Grande — they will continue to profit.

Although we are seeing all numbers across all demographics decreasing at the moment, due in large part to the efforts of this current administration, working with the government of Mexico as well as the Northern Triangle countries, to address this as a true regional crisis and concern, this is not a durable, long-term solution, concerning the national security and humanitarian crisis we are facing. Congress must acknowledge this is a crisis, and pass meaningful legislation to address the loopholes in our current legal framework.

Thank you for your time; I look forward to answering your questions.