Agency Spotlight–Customs and Border Protection in the News

by | Mar 15, 2017

Last Updated May 20, 2024

Below are some of the headlines and stories from the Customs and Border Protection that have been in the news lately.

Hiring Even During the Hiring Freeze?

A twist to the hiring freeze involves hiring thousands of new federal employees due to changing priorities in the government. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) now has a plan to emphasize putting a stop to illegal immigration. This includes hiring up to 15,000 more federal agents and accelerating deportation hearings. These new employees would become Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.

Memos, signed by the Secretary of the DHS, are now awaiting approval by President Trump. This plan would give federal authorities more authority to detain and deport illegal immigrants in and along America’s southern border.

Guidelines also call for expanding a priority list for illegal immigrants marked for immediate removal. The federal government would see assistance from local law enforcement agencies. Per the DHS Secretary, “The surge of immigrants at the southern border has overwhelmed federal agencies and resources and has created a significant national security vulnerability to the U.S.”

These proposed policies would supersede those issued under previous administrations. Below is a summary of some of the most significant changes:

  • Prioritizing criminal illegal immigrants and others for deportation which updates the guidance from previous administrations.
  • Expanding the program allowing participating local officers to act as immigration agents.
  • Hiring 10,000 ICE agents and officers.
  • Hiring 5,000 Border Patrol agents.
  • Ending “catch and release” allowing illegal immigrants subject to deportation to enter the country knowing many would not appear at removal hearings scheduled months or years in advance.

CBP Officers Seize $7 Million in Drugs

Officers working at the Port of Entry’s in the San Diego area intercepted approximately 9,600 pounds of narcotics. It included more than 500 pounds of marijuana hidden in a cargo shipment and almost 8,400 pounds in another shipment. All this was valued at nearly $7 million.

Border Agents Want Access to Your Phone and Online Accounts

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly wants foreign visitors to hear “What sites do you visit? And give us your passwords” before entering the U.S. He says “If they don’t want to give us that information, then they don’t come.”

The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable search and seizure. However, the government has much more leeway to conduct searches at the border than it does anywhere else. Federal judges maintain that searches at the border still need to be “reasonable”. The rules around border searches are foggy.

One of the controversies here is that even if there are no Fourth Amendment rights at the border, the search for an online account isn’t occurring at the border. It happens wherever the server is located.

Border Between the U.S. and Mexico Breached 9,000 Times

There are 654 miles of fence that line the border and it has already been breached 9,200 times between 2010-2015, per a GAO report. The report states that the CBP hasn’t implemented a way to measure the effectiveness of the current fence. CBP officials say that efforts to measure the effectiveness of the fence halted in 2013 due to “funding shortfalls”.

Border Patrol officials interviewed by GAO said the fencing helps divert illegal border crossings away from urban areas and into rural areas where they can respond more quickly. However, they also said smugglers can breach the border fences by simply cutting through or finding ways over/under them.

An assistant director of DHS investigations testified that cartel smugglers can sidestep the fencing by launching drugs over the border with air or propane canons or by using vehicle “drive throughs”, where ramps and even cranes lift vehicles over barriers.

Aggressive New Immigration and Border Enforcement Policies

Guidance will tighten immigration laws on asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors entering the country. It could also send those awaiting immigration proceedings in the U.S. back to Mexico. These memos could further worsen tensions with immigrants, their advocates, and Democratic lawmakers.

This new guidance will also make it more difficult to seek asylum in the U.S., allows the detention of many more undocumented immigrants, and gives more authority to immigration officers. It expands the use of expedited removal proceedings for unauthorized immigrants, allowing deportation to occur more quickly with limited court proceedings. This also allows for quick removal of immigrants who can’t prove they were in the U.S. continuously for 2 years before being apprehended.

Previously, ICE and CBP used “expedited removal” for immigrants caught within 100 miles of the border within 14 days of entering the U.S.

This guidance also expands on ending “catch and release” policies that allow individuals parole from detention while awaiting immigration court proceedings. This can take years. It also orders a “surge” in immigration judges and detention facilities to accommodate the holding of these people.

It gives room to tighten the standard for meeting the initial “credible fear” test for immigrants considered for asylum in the U.S.—a threshold that thousands now meet. For immigrants to be released pending asylum proceedings after meeting the credible fear threshold, the memo requires an ICE immigration officer is satisfied the person “affirmatively establishes” his or her identity and that they present no security or flight risk and agrees to the conditions imposed by ICE for public safety reasons.

There are more provisions under this guidance, but none of these are final and may change before becoming that way.

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