Press Briefing by Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:02 A.M. EDT
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: Good morning. Thank you all for being here today to discuss CBP's southwest border enforcement statistics for September.
But before I get to the numbers, I'd like to say thank you to the men and women of the Customs and Border Protection for their tireless efforts through Fiscal Year 2019, dealing with this unprecedented crisis. They do a phenomenal job securing our nation's borders, enforcing our nation's laws, saving lives, and maintaining the integrity of our system and rule of law — and doing so with humanity and compassion.
Make no mistake: This country is safer because of their efforts, their sacrifices, and their dedication.
This past Sunday, we lost another Border Patrol agent, Robert Hotten, in the line of duty while he was patrolling the Tucson Sector. He marks the 129th Border Patrol agent who has died in the line of duty. He leaves behind a wife and a son. His dedication — his life — to public service, to protecting this great nation, I can promise you this: He will be missed but never forgotten.
Now, as we've been expressing for some time now, this past fiscal year, CBP has faced unprecedented and staggering levels of illegal crossings. While the comprehensive numbers will be forthcoming with respect to all the numbers and all the statistics for 2019, CBP's enforcement actions on our southwest border totaled nearly 1 million in Fiscal Year 2019. This is a staggering 88 percent higher than the number of enforcement actions in 2018. Eighty-eight percent higher. These numbers are numbers that no immigration system in the world is designed to handle, including ours.
Arrivals from families to the border in Fiscal Year 2019 more than tripled any previous fiscal year on record. Our Border Patrol facilities — we've talked about this — were not designed to hold families or children. They were designed as police stations. And because of that, because of the new demographic of families and children, those resources became strained, and our limited resources had to be diverted from their law enforcement duties, securing the border, to address the humanitarian crisis. Make no mistake: Our country was less safe because of it.
And what continued to drive and pull Central American families to our borders was the public knowledge that the United States immigration laws are filled with loopholes, often judicially created. The hundreds of thousands of families and children were told, coached, and made to believe if you make it to the United States border with a child, it was your passport into the interior United States.
The cartels and smuggling organizations, on an almost daily basis, would broadcast that they could guarantee their entry. All you had to do was pay, all while they exploited our laws and the migrants themselves.
The cartels and smuggling organizations abused them and treated them with nothing more than as a commodity. This is what we wanted to stop.
We have therefore prioritized developing strategies and introduced the initiatives within the current legal framework that ensured results, restored the rule of law, and closed the loopholes that undermine the integrity of our immigration system.
And this administration's strategies have brought about results — dramatic results. While Congress has failed to put forth a single piece of legislation — even being able to introduce it to the floor to address this crisis — we have addressed this crisis.
This September marked the lowest number of law enforcement actions during Fiscal Year 2019. The total number of law enforcement actions last month was just over 52,000 — down almost 65 percent from the peak in May of 144,000. This represents the fourth month in a row of a steady decline in apprehensions. This is an unprecedented achievement.
Last month, it was another decline of 18 percent from August to September, and this marked the fourth consecutive month that the United States Border Patrol alone averaged 25 percent lower in the last four months.
And why have we achieved these significant results? Make no mistake as well: President Trump has worked to have other countries in the region, like Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries, to join us as true partners to come together to address this as a regional crisis that it is. And that's exactly what is happening.
Initiatives implemented under this administration, like the Migrant Protection Protocol, or MPP — which was established in accordance with Section 235 of the Immigration and Nationality Act — have brought about the downward trend in border enforcement statistics and strengthened the integrity of the immigration system.
In close partnership with the government of Mexico, MPP allowed for migrants illegally crossing, or at the POEs without documents, to be returned to Mexico to await expedited immigration proceedings in the United States. If they have meritorious claims, they receive relief in just a few months, rather than waiting in limbo in the United States, sometimes for years. And if they have unsuccessful claims, they are swiftly returned to their home country, or they can return voluntarily.
Through our partnership with Mexico, CBP has enrolled more than 51,000 people in MPP. And Mexico, again, being true partners, has agreed to provide humanitarian protections and even work authorizations to these individuals for the duration of their stay. With MPP, migrants are receiving due process and protection while the United States is restoring integrity to our immigration system. We're closing the loopholes and diminishing the smuggling organizations' ability to profit on the back of these migrants while simultaneously exploiting our system.
Through this and other initiatives, CBP has continued to collaborate with our foreign partners, particularly Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, to address this as a regional crisis, as I said, specifically targeting gangs, human smuggling organizations, and the movement of illicit drugs. And while the Northern Triangle countries are stepping up to address the regional crisis, expanding their asylum capabilities, and expediting the return of citizens who do not qualify for asylum in the United States, Mexico's efforts are leading the way.
Mexico's continued support of MPP and enhanced border security efforts along their southern border, in the interior and along the U.S.-Mexico border, is something really for the history books. The partnership between Mexico and the United States concerning this regional crisis is having a dramatic impact. The administration — we continue to enact a network of policies and regulations and initiatives all within the current legal framework.
Unfortunately, as we discussed before, judicial activism by lower courts continuously enjoins these attempts to address the crisis. The asylum IFR, for example, that requires migrants in the United States along the southwest border to seek asylum in a third country, is governed by current law, yet it was enjoined by a lower court and it took the Supreme Court, just recently, to overrule that lower court. And I'm here to tell you today, we are instituting that asylum IFR this week.
The Flores regulation is another example, which allows DHS to enforce immigration laws passed by Congress to detain families with dignity and respect during the duration of their immigration proceedings. It's actually part of the Flores Settlement Agreement — the law. But what happened when we tried to introduce that regulation, it was also stopped.
So despite these obstacles and Congress's inaction, the administration efforts — they're working. I'll give you an example. Just four short months ago, our daily apprehensions were close to 5,000. And today, I just looked at it on my screen before I left my office, it's below 1,700. We went from over 19,000 people in custody, just four short months ago, to less than 4,000.
We have essentially ended catch and release. If you come to our borders now with a child, it's no longer an immediate passport into the interior of the United States. Instead, they will be afforded a lawful and expedited process, but they will not be released into the interior of United States never to be heard from again.
While this demonstrates an incredible effort, especially by the men and women of CBP, there is more to do. Seventeen hundred daily apprehensions, as I mentioned, is still unacceptable.
The former Secretary of DHS, Jeh Johnson, he's been — said several times that, when he was Secretary, a bad day was a thousand apprehensions. I agree with him 100 percent. And let's keep in mind, although we apprehended almost a thousand — almost a million, excuse me — a million individuals this year in Fiscal Year '19, we estimate — and this is a conservative estimate — that there's probably around 150,000 individuals who eluded apprehension. That's nearly 13,000 each month.
The bottom line: We still need Congress to pass meaningful legislation to address our broken legal framework when it comes to immigration. And while Congress has failed to bring a single piece of meaningful legislation to the floor, this President and this administration is doing exactly what he promised to the American people.
Now, let me move on to something else: the wall. Having served as Chief of the Border Patrol in 2016, I proudly support the need and importance of a wall. CBP, with the help of the United States Army Corps of Engineers is continuing to provide the men and women of CBP what they have asked for to do the job of protecting this great nation on the frontlines.
To date, a total of 71 miles of new wall has already been constructed. And it's not just a wall; it's a wall system integrating lighting, technology, and access roads. This wall system is essential to our nation's border security by replacing outdated and dilapidated designs and construction of a much-needed physical barrier in strategic locations as requested by the leaders in the field. This isn't what the President asked for, this is what the experts asked for to help them do their job to safeguard and protect this great nation. The President is — simply listens to them, and he's delivering his promise.
By the end of 2020, CBP expects to have approximately 450 miles of new border wall system constructed. And I've said before, and I'll say it again: Walls work. Our agents know it and the data shows it. Everywhere we have installed borders along the southwest border, agents gain more operational control, illegal drug and human smuggling activity declines, agent safety improves, and border communities are safer and more secure on both sides of the border.
And the wall just doesn't benefit border communities. By way of illustration, in a five-day enforcement action that ended last Wednesday, the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested 97 illegal aliens in six Midwest states. That's important. Including those with prior criminal histories, conviction for serious crimes: assault, battery, child exploitation, sexual assault, drug possession, hit and run, and weapons offenses. And again, this was in six states in the Midwest.
This underscores the reality that some of the illegal aliens who cross at the southwest border make their way into the nation's interior and commit serious crimes. If we're going to have a rational and intellectually — and honest debate over this issue, we must acknowledge the public safety issues imposed by some, not all, but some illegal aliens.
The wall serves to impede and increase our ability to apprehend criminal illegal aliens before they make it into the interior of the United States. That is the truth.
The wall also increases our ability to stem the flow of illicit narcotics into our country. Last year, we lost 68,000 people to drug overdoses. The year before that, we lost 70,000 people due to drug overdoses. And last year, CBP seized more than 910,000 kilograms of illicit narcotics. Nine hundred and ten thousand.
As an example, the majority of heroin comes from our southwest border, making its way to your town, your city, and your state.
So this further illustrates what goes on at the border impacts every community. And the wall gives CBP the opportunity to more effectively detect and prevent drugs from entering our country and killing our citizens. That's why I always say, "Every town, every city, every state is a border town, border city, and border state."
Now, let me close by pointing out a couple other additional (inaudible) points of CBP agents and officers. Every day, they answer the call, putting their lives on the line to protect this nation. And this isn't a tagline. Over 30 years of law enforcement experience, this agency is something — and they do something that I've never seen before. In Fiscal Year 2019, United States Border Patrol agents rescued more than 4,900 people along the southwest border. Let that soak in a minute. They rescued 4,900 individuals along the southwest border.
In the midst of this crisis, our agents rendered aid, and, in many cases, put themselves in harm's way to rescue thousands of peoples whose lives or wellbeing at risk. When the agents see a migrant family struggling in a river, they've answered the call. When they locate people dying of thirst in the desert, they answer the call.
When our agents and officers see somebody in need, they don't ask them questions about their citizenship or their migration status; they see a human being in need and they answer the call. And they've done so 4,900 times this year.
These incredible stories play out just about every day along our border, and they deserve our attention. These stories — and these stories that the American people deserve to know through the news media.
I think now we have time for a few questions. Thank you.
So, yes, ma'am.
Q: Commissioner Morgan, thank you so much. Our colleagues in Mexico say they are talking to migrants, doctors, shelter directors, who say MPP — in essence, the U.S. government — is creating violent and dangerous situations that they are trying to escape from their home countries. What is your response to that? And what are you doing to address this violence?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: So, Mexico is doing a very similar activities that we are doing here. So here, our system was overwhelmed. I think everybody understands that. Again, back in May, 144,000. We relied on NGOs and faith-based organizations. That's one example that the government of Mexico is doing; the same — similar process that we did. So they're relaying on NGOs and faith-based organizations that help them with the individuals that are going over there, included in MPP.
In addition to that, the U.N. is there actively, in the northern border of Mexico, helping them address and deal with the individuals that are enrolled in MPP. The International Organization for Migration, for example, is actually there, assisting through the U.N. and assisting the government of Mexico. They're actually providing free service for people that are enrolled in MPP to actually return to their home country if they feel unsafe or they're just getting tired of waiting.
Because the majority of them know they're economic migrants and they're not going to qualify for asylum. And now that the message is getting out that we are — through this administration's efforts — we're closing those loopholes, and so now the message is finally getting out. We're trying to overcome the message that the cartels have been putting out there that it's going to be a free ride into the United States. We're now sending the message that, if you're coming here as an economic migrant, you're not going to be allowed into the United States. That's driving a lot of people to return.
Q: So in other words, the U.S. is not —
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: Yes, sir.
Q: In other words, the U.S. is not doing anything to —
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: I answered your question. Yes, sir.
Q: — work with Mexico? You didn't.
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: Yes, sir.
Q: Sir —
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: Go ahead.
Q: If I could — just let me follow up, actually on what she's asking you about. Is there operational and financial collaboration with the Mexicans? The President and you have also been very complimentary about what they're doing. So, I'm just curious, what's the level of that involvement? And is what we're doing making a difference to try to keep those people safe as they try to make their journey to this country and/or end up in Mexico (inaudible)?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: Absolutely. We're dealing with the government in Mexico at high levels, almost on a daily basis, and a local level, which really, a lot of times, that's where it happens. I just returned from RGV, again, where I talked to our local leadership. And they expressed to me the great collaborative working relationship they have with the government of Mexico. For example — I'll give you an example. So, MPP times. We're working with the government of Mexico to make sure that their capacity to receive people is just that — that they have the capacity to receive them so that they're not overwhelmed. We're talking about the times and the durations of when we're actually going to return them to Mexico, whether it's hours early in the morning or at night. We're working with them on a constant basis.
Again, another important thing that we're working with them too is it's not — it's bigger than just MPP. So we're working with them to address the drug smuggling routes and the drug smuggling organizations. We're working with them on a daily basis to help them improve their ability to actually conduct operations within Mexico to go after the cartels and drug smuggling organizations and the gang members.
And we're doing the same thing with the Northern Triangle countries. I think everybody here knows by now all three Northern Triangle countries have signed agreements right now. And we're — and like I said in my opening remarks, we're working with those countries on a daily basis. I have personnel that are down in the Northern Triangle countries to help them improve their capacity, not just with their law enforcement activities, but also their asylum capabilities as well.
Q: Is that costing us a lot of money in terms of paying for Mexico's participation and providing security along the border? Are, we as Americans, having to pay for that?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: I think what we're doing is we're being good, true partners, as they are, in dealing with this as a regional crisis. We all have responsibilities as a part of this. They're helping us. So, think about this: They've got 25,000 troops that are now dedicated to this. An enormous amount of troops at our southern border, interior enforcement, and the, third, the U.S.-Mexico border.
Every law enforcement action that they take, that helps our country. Right now, they've almost doubled their southern border apprehensions. That helps this country. The fact that they've received 50,000 individuals through MPP, that's a great cost and expense to them. They're helping us, and we help them.
Q: Thank you. While you're up here, I wanted to ask you about a number of incidents over the past year of CBP agents harassing journalists on their way into the country from overseas assignments. Can you say, right now, that that conduct is unacceptable? And can you say what you're doing about it to stop this from happening?
ACTING COMISSIONER MORGAN: So, a couple things. First of all, unequivocally, let me say that any journalist — right? — that is stopped and harassed and treated improperly because they're a journalist is absolutely unacceptable, unequivocally. And so what we do — and I read a recent article about that — and when that happens, a couple things can happen. If you feel that you have been inappropriately handled, harassed, then you need to report that immediately, right? And there's a couple different avenues. You can report it directly to CBP, our Office of Professional Responsibility, DHS IG. And I encourage you to do that. If you feel you've been inappropriately (inaudible), you need to do that.
We, proactively, if we see something in an article, even if it hasn't been reported, we're going to report it to our Office of Professional Responsibility. Because here's one thing we can say: We can disagree all we want, right? I learned from Lieutenant General Lear a long time ago: Disrespect doesn't mean disagreement. Right? And there's a little thing in the country called freedom of speech. So anything that we do that would impede that, we are going to hold people accountable as unacceptable, 100 percent.
Q: Sir, a couple questions. One, do you know how many kids are currently being held at the border, of that thousand number you cited?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: So, I don't know that specifically, but we can get you those numbers.
Q: You can get that number? Okay.
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: We keep track of that.
Q: And just to follow up more broadly: The Northern Triangle countries, Mexico, what is the administration doing to address the root causes of the problem — the violence, the poverty? I hear you talking about troops and reinforcements that have been sent in, but is the U.S. actually sending in resources that can help stem the flow of those core issues?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: So, I think that's spot on. That's a great question. Because we can address the loopholes in our system, those pull factors, all we want. But until we also help those countries address the push factors, we're only going to be half there. So, we are.
And, again, a couple of examples. Right now, besides the agreements that have been signed by all three countries — and again, look, that's not just about the asylum part of that. Those agreements really go to the heart of addressing this as true partners as a regional crisis to do just what you hit — you were spot on: to increase their capacity — right? — to go after the smuggling organizations; to increase their capacity to go after the gang members; to stop that violence. So that's one thing that we're absolutely helping.
Another thing we're trying to do is help build their capacity, and their asylum capacity as well. So we're doing those type of things every single day with those Northern Triangle countries to help them build. Because, at the end of the day, look — the Border Patrol agents will tell you, they've talked to these individuals. They want to stay in their home country, right? I mean, that's their home.
Look, I've talked to all three ministers of security from the Northern Triangle countries, and they've said to me — it wasn't just to me; to a group of U.S. officials. They said, "You know, America, please change your laws, fix your loopholes, because you're taking our kids," for example. They say, "You're taking our vitality. You're taking the youth of our country. We want our kids back. Fix your laws. Work with us, and we'll work with you to stem the flow of our children leaving our country." So we recognize that, and we are trying to help them.
Q: Thank you, Mr. Morgan. Given the decline that you've mentioned in border apprehensions that you've seen over the course of the past few months, and also the cooperation that you've mentioned that you're receiving from Mexico, is a safe third country agreement with Mexico even necessary?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: So, I can tell you right now, what the dialogues that we're having with Mexico is, what they're doing right now is incredible. So, we're going to continue to have dialogues to continue to improve anywhere that we can between our partnership, again, to really look at this as a regional crisis.
But, right now, we're just focusing on the incredible effort that's going on right now. They are — Mexico, absolutely. Again, and I mean this — this really is — the cooperation and partnership we have with Mexico right now really is one for the history books. It really is.
Q: Mexico's foreign minister says that such an agreement is not necessary because of the numbers that you've also cited. Do you disagree with the foreign minister?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: No, I don't. Right now, the cooperation — I mean, it's a good question. Right now, the cooperation that we are receiving with Mexico right now, it is exactly where we need it to be.
I'll give you an example: Just last week was the first time OTMs — Other Than Mexicans — this is the first time that the government of Mexico actually apprehended more OTMs than the Border Patrol did. The first time since we started keeping those stats. That, I think, illustrates the incredible work that they're doing.
Q: Thank you, Commissioner Morgan. In talking about how long Mexico could sustain this, you were very complimentary about what they're doing right now, but the last time when you were here, you were very skeptical about how long they could keep this up. So, feasibly, how long can they keep this level of productivity in helping the U.S. with the border crisis?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: So I think, honestly, as a law enforcement individual for a long time — you know, I think part of what makes us okay at our jobs is that we always maintain a healthy degree of skepticism. But all I can tell you is 30 days is a long time in this crisis. What Mexico is showing me is, they're sustaining this. Their capacity is growing on all those fronts. Their interior enforcement, their enforcement of the southern border, as well as their continued expansion of MPP and the support of that.
Having said that, what I feel though is, is even though they're being incredible partners, for a durable, lasting solution, we cannot rely on other countries to fix the loopholes in our system. They're being great partners, but at the end of the day, it's our responsibility. It's Congress's responsibility.
As this administration, this President, is coming up with these new initiatives and regs and policies, and even though judicial activities is trying to enjoin those and put up obstacles, at the end of the day, Congress's failure to act is the issue.
So to have a durable, meaningful solution with respect to this crisis, Congress has got to get off the bench, work on a bipartisan matter to pass meaningful legislation to address this crisis. I've said that, and I'm going to keep saying that. So —
Q: You were very effusive in your praise of the Border Patrolmen on the ground. And when I went to the border this spring, they were thankful for that but thought it was a bit hollow because they say their pay scale and their overtime pay policy is hampering their efforts. They would like to see a change in the overtime pay policy. They would like to see greater numbers, more boots on the ground, and they hold you responsible for that. Could you address that issue?
And then, if the numbers are down, why are we going to need a wall if they're saying they need more people?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: So, what I would say is, first and foremost, I'm absolutely responsible — first and foremost. And I take on that responsibility. It's something that we always struggle. I think every federal agency is always struggling with pay reform, overtime, more personnel. I don't think you're going to meet a chief of police or sheriff or agency head in a federal agency that will ever say that, "We're okay, we don't need more people." So we do need more people.
We're constantly looking at innovative ways to increase pay — whether it's overtime or retention bonuses — to keep the talented workforce we have. It's a continuing struggle. It's something I'm dedicated to. Absolutely.
And as far as the number of people, what I would say is, the wall — again, I say it's a wall system; it's part of multi-layered strategy. So you need the infrastructure, the technology. The infrastructure is the wall, along with technology and personnel. What happens is, if you apply all three of those in the right way, in a strategic location, it will actually reduce the number of personnel that you need in that area so we can focus them to the more strategic locations.
So it's a balance of both of that. So with every mile of wall that goes up, it increases our capability to do their job.
Q: So, will you commit to greater pay or at least clearing up the disparity between Customs and ICE and Border Patrolmen? Because when I was down there, that was — that was their number-one issue. They like the job that they're doing, but they want you guys to at least give them equal pay; that they're not getting paid equally to ICE and Customs.
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: So, first of all, I hear the same thing. But, first and foremost, you know what I hear first and foremost, what makes me proud to be a part of this and be standing next to them? Is they are proud to represent this country. They are proud to be on the frontlines, safeguarding our nation's borders. That's what they're proud of.
And as the agency head, I should try to do everything I can to make sure that they're being paid and taken care of adequately.
Q: Will you commit to that?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: I commit to that. Yes. Absolutely. I commit to that.
Q: Commissioner, a question —
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: Yes, ma'am.
Q: — sorry, about the CBP agents that are doing credible fear screenings. Could you give us, sort of, an update on how many are doing it; at what ports of entry? What is the goal of the number as you scale up, and when you would like to have it scaled up?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: So, there's a few things to unpack there. So, what we have done — and again, this is to augment USCIS asylum officers, because I think everybody knows here, is there's just not enough asylum officers. So what we've actually done is trained a handful. I don't have the exact numbers to date now, I can get those for you.
But we're continuing that program, and we're going to continue to expand that program to support USCIS. And right now, it's been successful. We've been able to — as part of our expedited process that we're doing, the temporary hearing facilities that are down there, those agents are helping as well to facilitate that expedited process, that the program is working well.
I'm taking a hard look at expanding that program, because, again, USCIS plays an integral role in this process through the asylum officers. So that's kind of a bottleneck. If we don't have that capacity there, it's going to limit our ability to effectively expedite the process.
Q: Is there a target number that you can reach to say that the surge, essentially, of people coming across the border is over? And also, how are you counting those people who are stopped under Remain in Mexico?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: So those are really, really good questions. I've thought about that a lot. You know, a couple times I've said, "Hey, I'd like to have the apprehensions under 500 a day." You know, that's just me kind of throwing something out there at a manageable level, looking at what the historic lows are. I mean, at the end of the day, standing here as the Commissioner of CBP, I'd like the number to be zero, but that's not realistic.
So, I think, again, Jeh Johnson — I'll bring that up again: He said a thousand was a bad day. So if we could start getting that down to the 500 range — don't hold me to that; that's just a little bit of unscientific guesstimation that I'm putting out there. But, you know, that becomes manageable.
I think what's also important though, and the reason why I hesitate to say, you know, hold fast on a specific number like 500 is, the demographic these days are very different. So if it was 500 Mexican adult males, that's very different for us. But when you're talking about their families and unaccompanied kids, that brings on a whole new dynamic. And that's one of the challenges for us. So 500 Mexican adult males is different than, you know, 350 families and kids, and 150 Mexican adult males. That challenges us. And so, with that, we're going to be taking a look at that.
And then, I'm sorry, what was the second part of your question?
Q: It's just, essentially, are you going to count asylees who remain in Mexico as apprehended U.S. asylees? How are you counting?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: Yeah. So that's a good question. And so we had a little glitch early on in how we were doing that. So when we first apprehend somebody, that will be counted as an initial apprehension. But once they're enrolled in MPP and they go back to Mexico, and then they have to come back and forth for their court hearing, we're not recounting them. But their initial apprehension, we are counting that as an apprehension.
Q: Can I ask a follow-up to the question that Brian just asked about the need for retention bonuses?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: Sure.
Q: Last week, the Pew Research Center put out a study that said that the agency you briefly ran this summer, ICE, is viewed less favorably in the country than the IRS, less favorably than any other agency that they asked about. Is the need for a retention bonus or overtime pay evidence of a recruitment problem at the Border Patrol? Are you having a difficult time finding talented people as a result of the administration's policies and the way that they are viewed by the general public?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: Okay. So I'll try to address that because I look at it very differently. So, I don't know who those people are that view ICE in a negative light. As a law enforcement officer, I don't. I consider the men and women of ICE heroes, unequivocally. They are enforcing the laws enacted by Congress.
And I read an example, just last week: 97 arrests, six states in the Midwest with people with serious, serious crimes — assault, battery, and there was sexual assault that went on. So the men and women of ICE — this is part of the false narrative out there — they're doing this every day.
Make no mistake: In my heart, and I believe 100 percent, as a career law enforcement dedicating my life to this country, that's what the men and women of ICE are doing. So if someone doesn't understand that, then get with me, read, get up to speed on what ICE actually does, and they will not have that perspective. So the same —
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: Okay. So to answer that second part of the question, the retention bonus: I think right now there is a narrative out there — negative — about law enforcement out there that I think is a false narrative.
I think when you have our own elected leaders that are out there trashing the men and women of law enforcement, actively trashing, saying lies, saying something like: "A Border Patrol agent is forcing a migrant to drink from toilet water," which is a lie — that is what's the narrative out there.
When you talked about the morale of the women and men in Border Patrol, for example, we're asking them to do all kinds of stuff they were never trained to do. We're asking them to take care of kids or to do baby diapers or baby formula. They're not — their morale isn't impacted by that. You know what their morale is impacted? When we have a congressional leader — an elected leader — that is out there vilifying the men and women of law enforcement, saying lies, pushing that false narrative that we know is not true.
Instead, they have done nothing. Congress has not passed one meaningful legislation to address this crisis, but yet they'll attack the men and women that are right now enforcing the laws that they did enact. That's the challenge. That's what I think impacts hiring and retention.
But, to answer your question —
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: And — well, pay is another issue. That's a big — that's a bigger governmental issue that we have to — I'm competing with other federal agencies, but I'm committed to continuing to (inaudible).
Q: Well, isn't that the issue though? I mean, that's why you have trouble getting recruits, is because of bad pay?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: No, I don't think it's that simple of an issue. I think it's a complicated issue. I think morale is part of that. I think the vitriol that's out there is part of that. I think parents are talking to young men and women very differently than they did before about a career in law enforcement. I think it's a bigger issue, more complicated.
I'm being told one more question. Yes ma'am.
Q: Mr. Commissioner, a clarification and then a question. You say 71 new miles of border wall have been built. Do you mean border wall in areas where there was no previous wall or barrier?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: (Nods in affirmation.)
Q: Okay, just to clarify.
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: Right.
Q: And then, why only 71 miles? Obviously, this is a big political issue for the President. He brings it up as he is campaigning for reelection. Do you feel political pressure from the administration to significantly increase that number ahead of next November?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: So let me answer the latter first. I feel absolutely no pressure from this administration to build more miles of wall. What I do feel pressure from is the men and women of the Customs and Border Protection, because they need this wall. They need the wall to do their job effectively, to safeguard and protect this country and themselves. That's where the pressure comes for me, to make sure I'm giving them all the tools and resources they need to effectively do their job and do it safely.
Now, for the 71 miles of new wall, make no mistake: If you take a four-foot-high, you know, X-cross steel, you know, vehicle barrier, and you replace it with a wall system that's 30-foot high, has an anti-climb plate to it, has lighting, technology, and access roads, make no mistake: From an agent out in the field perspective, a leadership perspective, and my perspective, that's absolutely a new wall.
Now, if you want to differentiate between a new wall, where it replaced those depilated, unacceptable physical barriers and new linear miles, I think that's the correct way to talk about that. So right now, those 71 miles have not been new linear miles, but that's part of what's being processed right now. So, in shortly, we're going to begin construction, like in RGV.
RGV, a strategic location, right now with 40 to 60 percent of the apprehensions throughout this fiscal year. And we're getting ready to build a little over 100 miles of new linear border wall down there.
And I'll tell you, this isn't easy. If you talk to General Semonite, who's leading the charge of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, it's a tough process. You have to act — you have to obtain the land. Land acquisition is a tough thing. Sometimes you'll go and maybe you'll only have a couple of miles of linear wall, and you've got 600 land owners that you have to deal with. You have some public lands, some federal land. It's a difficult process to do.
But I tell you what: Seventy-one miles of new wall systems have been built is more than what was built in the previous administration.
Q: No new linear wall — no new linear miles have built?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: It's being built in RGV in strategic locations.
So, yes, sir. I guess this is the last one then.
Q: You're talking about the new linear wall and the 71 miles. How is Mexico going to pay for that?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: Look, that — to me, I'm a law enforcement guy, I'm the Commissioner of CBP. I'm not — that's a political thing to me.
Q: (Inaudible) Mexico?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: Let me answer your question. That's a political thing to me. I — to me, I don't care who's paying for the wall. All's I care about is it's being built.
And it is being built. And by end of 2020, we're going to have 450 miles of beautiful, new wall that's going to absolutely, exponentially increase the Border Patrol to safeguard your towns and your cities and your state.
Donald J. Trump, Press Briefing by Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/334907