Senator Lankford Questions Acting CBP Commissioner

CLICK HERE to watch Lankford’s Q&A.

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today questioned Acting US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Mark Morgan in a Homeland Security Committee hearing about the causes of some of the overcrowding issues at our southern border facilities. Morgan identified that funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is currently inadequate. Lankford also questioned Morgan about the current legal loophole in our system caused by the Flores settlement that is inadvertently helping cartels in Mexico encourage smuggling children across our border to get into the country more easily.

Lankford visited McAllen, TX, on July 21 to tour several Rio Grande Valley sector border facilities and assess conditions there. Law enforcement officers at the facilities he visited also directly cited inadequate funding for ICE to detain individuals as the reason traditional border facilities are overcrowded. Lankford offered a detailed account of his oversight trip to the southern border in a Senate floor speech last week and in a video filmed during the tour of the facilities and the border wall.


Lankford: I just returned back from the border last weekend, spending last weekend at five different facilities in the Rio Grande Valley area, and then spent much of the night riding along with the members of Border Patrol as they did night patrols to get a feel for what’s really going on on the ground. I went into each facility and asked to be able to see their supply room, to see food, water, hygiene products, diapers, clothing, toothbrushes, and every facility that I went into, all of those supplies were there in ample supply. I also found in some of the facilities a couple of pieces of used equipment like car seats, and I asked about that and said, ‘These seem like used car seats. Where do they come from? They said that some of the children have to be moved to different places. And so Border Patrol agents have brought their own car seats for their kids here to be able to make sure these kids have car seats when they actually move from facility to facility.

What I found was a tremendous number of very professional people trying to be able to find a way to be able to manage a problem where they have thousands upon thousands of people coming at them. In the McAllen station, in that area alone, they have 1,500 to 2,000 people a day that are coming across the border illegally, and they are trying to figure out ways to process them. When I asked the agents, ‘What would help you the most?’ The first response I got from everyone was, ’Allow ICE to be able to detain people. That’s what they do, not what we do.’ And what I heard is a pretty clear statement was when this whole movement on abolish ICE or defund ICE came about and the push to not allow ICE to get more funding and the adamant push back we’ve had on adding additional funding to ICE, its backing up thousands of individuals into Customs and Border Patrol facilities to be able to be held while they’re waiting for a place for them to go. We’ve got almost 50,000 beds in ICE facilities, but 4,000 beds in Customs and Border Patrol. And when you’ve got thousands of people a day coming at them with nowhere to go, you’re not just going to release them on the street. That’s not the obligation of federal law enforcement, just to release people. It’s to be able to process and find out who’s a risk and who’s not a risk and then to figure out how to be able to transition them. So my simple question to you is: are your facilities designed and set up to hold thousands of people? Is that the mission of Customs and Border Patrol?

Morgan: Absolutely not, Senator. We’ve stated that again and again and again.

Lankford: And I’ve heard it. And so much of our conversation at this dias and through Congress is what we’re going to do to get Customs and Border Patrol in a better position to hold more people, ignoring the obvious question: why aren’t we adding additional funding to ICE? That’s what they do. They do have the facilities. They do have the contracts. They do have all of the oversight there to be able to allow a lot more people to be held as they’re trying to process them. So, I’m a little frustrated that our conversation seems to be: what can we do to help Customs and Border Patrol be better at detaining people, when that’s not even the mission of Customs and Border Patrol. 

Morgan: Yes sir, and that’s correct. Right now in just the past 60 days, since the IG review, we’ve done so much. We’ve created four soft-sided facilities, for family units alone, a capacity of over 2,000. Two more soft-sided facilities are coming on for single adults with the capacity of 4,500. I could keep going on and on, modular systems we’re setting up. This is at taxpayers’…tens of millions of dollars a month we’re spending on this. We are talking about, for us to do more and for CBP to get more for these temporary facilities—when you just outlined the answer. We fund ICE. We asked for $200 million to supplement, and it was denied. Then we question, why we are overcrowded. We’re overcrowded because ICE does not have the funding to have the bed space as the system is designed; we’re interdependent. We’re overcrowded in part because HHS was overcrowded, because ICE was overcrowded and was not properly funded, and ICE is still not being properly funded.

Lankford: No its not, and that is part of our challenge. And we’ve got to be able to break through this. We’re spending over $200 million on one soft-sided facility this year instead of giving $200 million to ICE to be able to manage all of those. So it’s not only wasteful to the taxpayer, it’s not fair to those men and women that are serving at Customs and Border Patrol to be able to do something that they were not first set up and trained to do, to try to make make-shift facilities rather than to actually have a better facility for folks to be able to go through this process. I had lots of questions there about the Flores settlement, and we’ve heard some conversation even on this dais that the Flores 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, 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 adult had a murder warrant in their home country and they just released them into the country and they can 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 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 into the country, and they’re traveling with a child. 

The other thing that I heard that I thought was interesting was it was 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. When I asked about that they said, ‘We were able to pull people out and separate the child from the adult and interview the child. 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 because 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 and 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 that 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.