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DHS secretary acknowledges Border Patrol staffing shortages during visit to Texas border

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas.
Jacquelyn Martin
/
Associated Press
The head of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, says U.S. authorities encountered migrants more than 212,000 on the U.S.-Mexico border in July — an "unprecedented number."

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas sought to reassure Border Patrol agents he’s aware of staffing issues in the agency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The secretary told local officials he’s working to secure more resources for the agency.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas met with Border Patrol agents in El Paso on Thursday and reassured agency officials he’s aware of the toll the COVID-19 pandemic is taking on staffing levels, said El Paso’s County judge.

Judge Ricardo Samaniego was one of several local officials Mayorkas met with during his three-day trip to the border, which began in Yuma, Ariz. Wednesday. Mayorkas is scheduled to be in Laredo on Friday for similar meetings.

“We know we’re going into a very critical stage of having the right personnel. He actually met with a lot of the agents to motivate them,” Samaniego told KTEP about Mayorkas’ visit. “As you know, if you need five agents and two have COVID, the other three take the brunt and they get overwhelmed.”

Mayorkas also assured Border Patrol agents in El Paso he was working to deliver more technology, vehicles and support for the agency. He told local officials that migrant capacity in the sector will be considered before migrants taken into custody elsewhere are transferred to El Paso, KTEP reported.

“I feel comfortable that he's willing to make sure that we get the right transportation” for migrants, Samaniego said. “That we (can) look at personnel and personnel coming from other areas that maybe are not as hard-hit as ours would be.”

The visits to Texas come as the Biden administration is under fire from both conservatives and immigrant rights groups over his handling of border and asylum policies. Customs and Border Protection released statistics this week that showed agents encountered more than 2 million unauthorized people at the southern border during the 2021 calendar year, a record high. That figure includes apprehensions of undocumented immigrants, asylum seekers who surrendered to authorities, border crossers deemed “inadmissible” by agents at ports of entries, and people who tried to enter the country multiple times.

Texas’ Rio Grande Valley Sector of the U.S. Border Patrol continues to be the busiest in the country, with more than 137,200 migrant encounters during the first three months of the current 2022 fiscal year. That’s followed in Texas by the Del Rio and El Paso sectors, which have seen 91,650 and 49,000 encounters, respectively, according to CBP statistics.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has been of the state’s most vocal critics of the Biden administration, citing the increase in apprehensions to justify the state’s Operation Lone Star, where Texas state police have been authorized to arrest undocumented immigrants who trespass on private lands after they cross the Rio Grande. But Abbott’s operation has had its share of missteps as several charges have been dropped because of persecutor errors, The Texas Tribune reported.

Abbott was in the Rio Grande Valley Thursday for a border tour convened by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who was joined by attorneys general from 12 states.

“Today I invited fellow attorneys general to witness first-hand accounts of the massive influx of illegal aliens, which affects not only Texas, but the entire country,” Paxton tweeted.

Biden and Mayorkas have also been widely criticized by immigrant rights groups for continuing some of former President Trump’s border and immigration policies — despite Biden’s campaign promises to end some of the programs. Among them is what’s known as Title 42, which immediately returns most asylum undocumented immigrants to Mexico without allowing them the chance to apply for asylum. The policy was enacted in March 2020 in what Trump said was an effort to curb the further spread of COVID-19.

The Biden administration has also reimplemented the Migrant Protection Protocols, which forces most asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for their immigration hearings in the United States. Biden tried to end the policy after he took office, but a federal court order required its resurgence.

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Got a tip? Email Julián Aguilar at jaguilar@kera.org.You can follow Julián on Twitter @nachoaguilar.