By BETHANY BLANKLEY
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) – While Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas claims the southern border is secure and he has a plan in place for increased surges, those in law enforcement say the opposite is true. Not only have Border Patrol agents lost operational control of the border, they’ve also lost operational awareness and have no idea who is coming through, current and former Border Patrol agents told The Center Square.
In President Joe Biden’s first year in office, an estimated 1 million people entered the U.S. illegally and evaded capture, Border Patrol agents estimate. Known as “gotaways,” they aren’t included in the apprehension and enforcement data published by U.S. Customs and Border Protection every month.
There are generally two groups of people entering the U.S. illegally, those in law enforcement told The Center Square. Those who surrender at ports of entry claiming to seek asylum or other immigration-related claims, and gotaways.
Gotaways are considered to be more dangerous, those in law enforcement – from Border Patrol agents, to sheriffs, to local police – say. When they’re captured, they often have criminal records. Sheriffs attempt to quantify the ones who’ve evaded capture through a range of methods after finding stash houses and images of groups of people wearing camouflage and backpacks traveling on foot caught on cameras placed on private properties and in other areas.
Last year, CBP “officially released known, documented numbers of illegal aliens who evaded apprehension to be roughly 380,000 people,” retired Chief of U.S. Border Patrol Rodney Scott told The Center Square. “Last month, we learned from a leaked Border Patrol document that there were over 300,000 known people who evaded apprehension” in the first three months of this year, he said.
“In light of these numbers and the fact that Border Patrol agents are so overwhelmed that very few are out patrolling the border,” he said, “it would be absolutely naive to believe that there aren’t already over one million gotaways in the U.S. when Border Patrol was able to document over 300,000 known gotaways with very few agents in the field and hundreds of miles of border left unpatrolled.”
Mr. Scott adds that while many immigrants are coming to America seeking a better life, those entering illegally through the southern border are doing so with the aid of Mexican cartels.
“Cartels are using the massive numbers of people as a weapon to overwhelm Border Patrol,” Mr. Scott said, “so they can intentionally bring in criminals, terrorists and narcotics.
“Even if you feel sorry for these people, they are willingly participating in criminal activity to bring serious threats into this country and that includes terrorists, criminals and narcotics,” he said. “They are creating a diversion to usher in all of these criminal elements.”
On Tuesday, Mr. Mayorkas published a 20-page memo detailing DHS’ border security plan. It states that DHS “has been executing a comprehensive and deliberate strategy to secure our borders and build a safe, orderly, and humane immigration system.”
But that hasn’t been the case over the past year, critics of Mr. Mayorkas’ argue. In President Biden’s first year in office, a record number of people entered the U.S. illegally after Mr. Mayorkas introduced sweeping changes to immigration enforcement efforts, prompting multiple lawsuits.
In fiscal 2021, CBP reported 1.9 million total enforcement actions. Already in fiscal 2022, CBP has reported 1.2 million enforcement actions, excluding gotaways.
But even these numbers are “very misleading,” a Border Patrol agent in Texas, speaking on the condition of anonymity out of concerns for his job, told The Center Square. “On the one hand, you can argue the border is more secure because of higher apprehensions. On the other, it’s less secure because there are more apprehensions – meaning, if more family units are being apprehended you don’t know how many single individuals are getting through or who they are.”
In reality, the agent said, “We don’t have complete situational awareness of the border since the 2006 Secure Fence Act, which requires us to do so. We will never know who and how many came across,” unless the approach to border security changes, the agent said.
Border Patrol agents estimate the number of gotaways by identifying sign cuttings, foot traffic marks, images captured from drawbridge cameras, residents’ critter cam images, or a visual of groups from camera towers, among other methods.
They also learn about gotaways from local residents who call them “about their property being broken into – which is every single day, the agent said. “Residents along the border are tired of their property being broken into and/or stolen. They are afraid of speaking out because of cartel retaliation.”
Retired Border Patrol agent Frank Lopez, Jr., who’s filed to run in Texas’ Congressional District 23, told The Center Square, “Personnel on the ground have now lost operational awareness let alone operational control because they’re not patrolling like they used to, meaning Border Patrol has no idea who is coming through or how many are. The best we have are estimates.”