U.S. Customs and Border Protection denies claims that it was separating families seeking asylum

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Image credit: U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Todd Owen, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Executive Assistant Commissioner (Office of Field Operations), on July 9 addressed false claims that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is separating families seeking asylum at U.S. ports of entry as part of the zero tolerance policy. The zero tolerance policy did not change or affect operations at U.S. ports of entry.

The federal law enforcement agency said that it is rare for CBP to separate family units at ports of entry. If there is a separation, it is a result of exigent circumstances to ensure the wellbeing of the child. CBP asserted that it does not discourage or deny travelers from seeking asylum or any other form of protection, or from claiming fear of return to their home country.

CBP explained that when the U.S. ports of entry reach capacity, the federal law enforcement agency officers’ ability to manage all of their missions — counter-narcotics, national security, facilitation of lawful trade — is challenged by the time and the space to process people that are arriving without documents. And that from time to time they have to manage the queues and address that processing based on that capacity.

CBP officers process approximately 532,000 people and 208,000 vehicles at the land ports of entry each day. San Ysidro is CBP’s largest border crossing with more than 100,000 people crossing every single day. Another 30,000 cross through the neighboring Otay Mesa Port of Entry.

CBP officers have direct responsibility for enhancing U.S. economic competitiveness by facilitating legitimate travel and trade, both of which have continued to grow year after year. Over the last five years, international travel has grown approximately 9.7 percent.

EAC Todd Owen said: “We have a complex and varied mission at our ports of entry: counterterrorism activities; narcotics interdiction; economic security mission; trade enforcement such as intellectual property rights; enforcing anti-dumping and countervailing duty, and unsafe products; and we also facilitate lawful trade and travel. We, of course, have our immigration process and responsibilities and we also have a large agricultural mission making sure no pests and harmful agriculture threats are entering the country. I think our CBP officers do a very good job of managing these important missions while facilitating asylum claims as quickly as they can. They continue to treat all individuals with dignity and respect.”

He added: “While they’re in the port of entry, we keep the family units together as much as we can operationally. Family separation at the ports of entry is very rare, and it’s only done under exigent circumstances in order to protect the child and to ensure the wellbeing of the child.”

CBP said that the lawful way to request asylum is to present oneself at the ports of entry. At the port of entry, a CBP officer will document asylee’s claim, take a sworn statement and then the asylee will be turned over to ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO).

ERO will hold the asylees in detention until they can be presented before an asylum officer with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for the initial review of the asylum claim. CBP officers make no assessment to the merits of the asylum claim.

Individuals who attempt to illegally circumvent the inspection process at the ports of entry are subject to prosecution, which requires separation of the adult. This long-standing practice maintains the integrity of the legal process to enter the United States.

In another report dated July 10, CBP agents from McAllen in Texas said they rescued a three year old separated from her mother by smugglers and abandoned in the river.

The report said the McAllen Station received information from Hidalgo Port of Entry regarding possible illegal aliens underneath the bridge, and that as agents responded, they encountered a female claiming that her three-year-old daughter was missing.

She stated that the guide/smuggler crossed her into the US alone. Then, as the smuggler attempted to cross her daughter, she observed them both drifting down river as she lost sight of them. She could not see if they had returned to Mexico or if her child drifted away by herself.

Harlingen Border Patrol Station riverine units and a National Guard helicopter were immediately deployed to the area in search of the child, and agents located the child walking on the river road.

CBP officers immediately checked the child for injuries before reuniting her with the mother. The child was unharmed and not in need of medical assistance.

From October 1, 2107, to June 30, 2018, the Rio Grande Valley Sector has rescued 1157 people, an increase of 53 per cent when compared to last year. In calling the public to report any suspicious activities along the border, CBP said:“They’re humans, not cargo!”