CBP Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan: Congress encourages child trafficking by failing to act

On July 30, 2019, Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan appeared 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?.

James Lankford, the junior Senator from Oklahoma (Republican), is a member of that committee. When Lankford's turn came to question Morgan, he took advantage of the opportunity to speak about a recent oversight tour he participated in, of U.S. Border Patrol facilities in the Rio Grande Valley. Senator Lankford recounted what he was told by Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol agents and asked Commissioner Morgan to confirm those reports.

In his response, Commissioner Mark Morgan emphasized that Congressional refusal to enact legislation permitting the Border Patrol to detain migrant children until their expulsion is encouraging the trafficking of Mexican children to the United States, on a large scale. Following is a transcript of the relevant section of the exchange between those two officials.

Lankford: I had lots of questions there about the Flores settlement, and we’ve heard even some conversation on this dais of the floor that the settlement is not the issue. What I heard when I was at the border, was adults that are traveling with a child, when they arrive with a child and there’s a 20-day clock that is ticking at that point [due to the "20 day rule", which says that migrant children cannot be detained for more than 20 days], are we able to get criminal records from countries, outside of the United States obviously, from other countries, within 20 days, of who this adult is, traveling with this child?

Morgan: Not efficiently.

Lankford: So, some countries can, some countries cannot. Is that correct?

Morgan: That’s correct.

Lankford: Do you have situations where you have had to release an adult because of this time period, this Flores agreement time period, where you’ve released an adult traveling with a child and later discovered that that adult is a felon from that country?

Morgan: I don’t have those statistics, sir.

Lankford: So, I’ll tell you what I heard this past weekend from some of the Border Patrol folks that I talked to there on the border. They gave me two specific examples that have happened recently: That they released an adult, and then found out after they … released an adult with a child, and then found out two weeks later that that adult had a murder warrant in their home country, and they just released them into the country and they could do nothing about it. I also found out that … one of the agents was telling me, they had released an adult traveling with a child, and then found out after they were released, when they got the criminal records in from the home country, that was a convicted pedophile, from that country, now traveling with a child somewhere in our country. And because we couldn’t detain them for longer than 20 days, and we couldn’t get those criminal records, they’re released in the country, and they’re traveling with a child.

The other thing that I heard that I thought was interesting was, it was [referring to migrant children detained at the border in the past] children that were maybe 7 to 10 years old, that were traveling with adult males. But when I got to the facility in McAllen last week, it was almost all infants, and very young children. And when I asked about that, they said We were able to pull people out and separate the child from the adult, interview the child, and the child could often tell us, ‘That’s not my dad.’ Now with infants you can’t do that anymore. Have the cartels changed methods?

Morgan: Absolutely, that’s why they’re a multi-billion dollar organization, 'cause they change, and they profit from it every single time. Border Patrol alone has identified 5,800 fake families. HSI, an investigative element of ICE, has put resources down there. They have discovered hundreds of fake families. The stories are happening every single day, and it’s very clear. It’s very clear, Senator, is that they know, you grab a kid, that’s your passport into the United States because of the Flores Settlement Agreement. That has to be changed, and it’s going to take a legislative fix to do that. If that does not happen, all this other stuff we’re talking about, the care, which we absolutely have to do, it does nothing though to stem the flow. If we don’t address the Flores settlement agreement, they’re going to keep coming.