The Border Patrol has documented more than 100,000 immigrants who they know managed to illegally sneak past them and get into the interior of the country, the agency’s chief told Congress on Thursday, saying it’s the most in five years.
Known as “got aways,” the migrants are ones who agents detect, but know they didn’t manage to stop from crossing the border.
“This high level of ‘got aways’ is a direct result of agents being reassigned away from the frontline to provide humanitarian support to the unprecedented numbers of individuals and families in custody,” Chief Carla Provost told the House Homeland Security Committee.
The panel was meeting to hear how President Trump’s orders to send National Guard and active-duty troops to the border is playing out.
Chief Provost said they’ve been a major boost, suggesting the got-away numbers might have been worse without the troops there to fill gaps left when her agents get pulled away to do babysitting duties for the families and unaccompanied children.
“That support as my agents are being pulled away to deal with the humanitarian crisis is key to us having situational awareness on the border,” she said.
The troops, whom the president first deployed in the run-up to last year’s elections, are performing support tasks, monitoring cameras and scopes and providing air support for border authorities, though they are not supposed to engage in actual policing.
In one example last month, National Guard troops in Texas spotted a group of migrants rafting across the Rio Grande and reported it to Border Patrol agents.
Agents, with the help of local police, corralled the group, whose members had paid up to $10,000 to be smuggled into the U.S.
But Mr. Trump’s affinity for using the troops has angered Democrats and some Republicans in Congress, who say they’re being distracted from their national security missions when they’re being used on the border.
House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie G. Thompson was particularly irked by the decision to use troops to paint a 1-mile section of border wall.
He wanted to know why that wasn’t contracted out.
The officials who testified couldn’t detail the exact decision-making, but said the paint is special and is supposed to help prevent climbing the wall.
“This is a test of 1 mile, to see how effective that anti-climb paint can be,” said Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Robert Salesses.
Officials say the Border Patrol is dealing with two different, and in many ways competing, threats.
One is the massive surge of migrant children and families. They arrive hoping to be caught, looking to take advantage of lax U.S. policies. The numbers are so overwhelming that agents struggle to process and transport them.
The other threat is single adult migrants and drug smuggling.
Chief Provost said as much as 60% of agents’ time in some regions is taken up by transporting, feeding or doing hospital watch for the families and children. She said that pulls them off their other line-watch duties.
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