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Crisis pulling agents, officers south from northern border

 

Havre Daily News/Ryan Berry

A border agent walks around the outside of Wild Horse Port of Entry Thursday at the Canadian border in Hill County.

In the past months, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has reassigned a large number of agents and officers from across the nation to the southern border to deal with illegal immigrants crossing into the United States, a move some say leaves the northern border vulnerable.

CBP says it is working to deal with the situation.

"While the current southwest border security and humanitarian crisis is impacting CBP operations, we are working to mitigate the effects as much as possible," Havre Sector Public Affairs Officer Thomas Lines said. "Currently, CBP has temporarily reassigned Border Patrol agents from northern border sectors to the southwest border where apprehensions of family units and unaccompanied children from Central America have overwhelmed Border Patrol capabilities and facilities."

That action has including reassigning personnel from the Havre Sector, although the agency cannot give exact numbers.

The members of Montana's congressional delegation agreed the humanitarian crisis needs to be addressed, but differ on the proper solution to this issue.

U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., said that the large number of illegal migrants are putting a great strain on CBP. If congressional Democrats focused on securing the southern border, it would relieve strain and allow the CBP to be more effective in its operations, he said.

"More than 100,000 people are being caught each month trying to enter the country illegally through the southern border," Gianforte said. "That's equal to the population of Billings. Robbing Peter to pay Paul on the southern border is a result of the refusal of congressional Democrats to secure the border. Democrats seem more eager to abolish ICE and CBP than give them the tools they need to enforce our laws and protect our communities." 

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said criminals and people who pose a risk to the country will always find the weakest link in the fence. It's important the country has adequate staffing and it's what Montana has fought for years to have on the northern border, but the focus is still on the southern border. 

"It's a mistake to reassign those folks without somebody to take their place," he said. "... I guarantee you, if it looks like an opening for people who want to do harm to this country the northern border will become an issue. There's just no doubt about that."

He added that he is sure people within CBP agree with him. He said CBP has the capacity to hire more people, with careers in the agency giving good, well-paying jobs. 

CBP needs to become more aggressive with its hiring process because if more people know about these jobs they would be interested, Tester said.

Julia Doyle, a spokesperson for Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., said the senator believes the situation at the southern border is a crisis that needs to be addressed, adding that Congress must put politics aside, secure the southern border and combat the humanitarian crisis.

The border crisis has made national headlines within the past year, with discussions of child endangerment, drug smuggling, gangs, deaths and numerous other issues happening across the aisle in Washington. 

A CBP official who asked not to be named said June 25 in an email that CBP has temporarily reassigned hundreds from across the country to address the crisis.

"Currently, CBP has temporarily reassigned 731 CBP officers from ports around the nation to Border Patrol sectors where apprehensions of family units and unaccompanied children from Central America have overwhelmed Border Patrol capabilities and facilities," the official said. "This includes CBP officers from Northern border ports, seaports, and airports in order to lessen the impact at any one particular port of entry. Travelers are urged to plan accordingly and check the CBP wait times page for the most up-to-date border crossing information."

The official added that this statement was all the agency could provide at this time.

On the White House website, President Donald Trump says, "For years, Mexico has not treated us fairly - but we are now asserting our rights as a sovereign Nation. To address the emergency at the Southern Border, I am invoking the authorities granted to me by the International Emergency Economic Powers Act."

Trump said the United States of America has been invaded by hundreds of thousands of people coming through Mexico and entering the country illegally. The influx of illegal aliens has profound consequences on every aspect, such as overwhelming schools, overcrowding hospitals, draining the welfare system and causing untold amounts of crime.  

"Gang members, smugglers, human traffickers, and illegal drugs and narcotics of all kinds are pouring across the Southern Border and directly into our communities," Trump said. "Thousands of innocent lives are taken every year as a result of this lawless chaos. It must end NOW!"

According to the CBP website, migrants being detained on the U.S.-Mexico Border is the highest it has been in a decade. This year, from January to May, close to 600,000 illegal migrants have been detained, and the border has had the highest apprehensions of people illegally crossing the border since the Bush Administration.

The CBP website added that, in fiscal year 2018, customs officers and border patrol agents arrested 20,486 criminal aliens and another 7,752 people who were wanted by law enforcement. Since 2017, there has been a 50 percent increase in arrested illegal immigrants who had gang affiliations, 808 arrests.

Millions of dollars of illegal narcotics also were seized - 1.7 million pounds, most of it marijuana.

According to some officials, most of the drugs coming into the U.S. are smuggled through ports of entry.

Havre Daily News/Ryan Berry

A vehicle passes through the Wild Horse Port of Entry Thursday at the Canadian border.

The CBP Security Report for fiscal year 2018 says CBP had experienced a 47 percent increase in families deemed inadmissible and apprehended along the southwest border by March of 2019, including a 59 percent increase in inadmissible families and a 42 percent increase in families apprehended. Approximately 62 percent of U.S. Border Patrol apprehensions were people from countries other than Mexico - predominantly individuals from Central America - up from 58 percent last year. 

Of the 404,142 apprehensions nationwide, 396,579 were along the southwest border, it said.

Of those, 223,604 were from El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras and another 152,257 were from Mexico, with a 10 percent rate of return offenders.

U.S. Border Patrol also rescued 4,307 illegal migrants in danger and in some cases life-threatening situations.

The Missing Migrants website, which tracks deaths of migrants worldwide, says the southern border had the second-highest number of deaths in 2018, with 179 bodies recovered. The website says that, since 2016, the number of deaths of migrants had been on a downward trend, with about 100 fewer deaths in 2017.

 

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