James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:02 P.M. EDT
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: Good morning. And thank you all for being here today.
As the Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, I’m pleased to announce the official release of CBP’s southwest border migration statistics for the month of August. And I’ve said this many times: Since Congress has failed and continue to fail to pass meaningful legislation to address the crisis at the border — which would ultimately stop children from being used as passports and end the cartels’ ability to exploit this population, as well as our laws — the Trump administration has taken a number of unilateral actions, unprecedented actions, that we’re going to discuss today.
But, first, let’s discuss the results of the administration’s incredible efforts. During the month of August, CBP apprehended, or deemed inadmissible, a total of 64,000 individuals. For July, if you recall, that number was just over 82,000, which represents a decline of 22 percent.
Moreover, the August numbers reflects — and this is critical — the August numbers reflects a 56 percent reduction from the peak in May, which you recall was over 144,000 individuals.
And why? Why do we see, in 90 days, a 56 percent reduction? The President has made it very clear that he’s going to use every tool available to him and this administration to address this unprecedented crisis at the southern border. We have seen historic agreements and policies put in place by this administration; an unprecedented network of initiatives, from regulatory reforms, policy changes, interior enforcement efforts. The list goes on and on, what this administration has done that resulted in this 56 percent decrease.
In addition to that, let’s talk about the government of Mexico. The government of Mexico has taken meaningful and unprecedented steps to help curb the flow of illegal immigration to our border.
Now, let’s talk about a couple of numbers. Mexico has apprehended approximately 134,000 people so far this calendar year. Last year — 2018 calendar year — the entire year of 2018: 83,000. That’s a substantial increase of apprehensions that the government of Mexico has executed.
In addition, since June, Mexico has deployed thousands of troops. They’ve created a new national guard within their country: 10,000 troops to the southern border; 15,000 troops to the norther border with the United States. Again, unprecedented support and cooperation with the government of Mexico.
But I’m going to tell you, and I’m going to go into a little bit more what the government of Mexico has done, but they need to do more. And I’ll talk about that in a second.
The international outreach to the governments of Central American countries is also beginning to yield effective and positive results, particularly the efforts to stem the surge of illegal migrants crossing the southwest border and to disrupt alien smuggling organizations.
Additionally, the Northern Triangle countries specifically, along with the government of Mexico, have really joined the United States as true partners for the first time. They really are seeing this as a true, regional crisis that need continuing coordination, cooperation, and effort — that this is not just a United States problem; that this is a regional crisis that needs regional support and regional solutions.
Third, again — and this goes to the support that the government of Mexico is providing — the Migrant Protection Protocols — or, I’m sure most of you heard, “MPP” — have also helped. Tens of thousands of individuals arrive at our southwest border every month, many of them attempting to enter illegally.
Historically — we’ve talked about this — these individuals, because of our broken asylum laws, have been released into the interior of the United States as they wait for their asylum hearings. These proceedings can take years. A host of reasons: a shortage of immigration judges, backlogs, the list goes on.
Additionally, many never stick to the process and never continue to go through its final stages. And even when they receive a final order of removal, they still remain in the United States illegally. Those are facts.
Under the MPP, aliens who are entering or seeking asylum and admission to the United States from Mexico, illegally or without proper documentation, now may be returned to Mexico and required to wait outside the United States for the duration of their immigration proceedings, which take place in the United States. The government of Mexico has agreed to provide them, while they’re waiting in Mexico, with appropriate humanitarian protections for the duration of their stay.
Here’s a couple of key points on MPP. It discourages the abuse and exploitation of U.S. laws and non-meritorious or false asylum claims. MPP also helps promote a safer and more orderly process along the southwest border, freeing up limited resources and helps free up time of those implementing this process to devote to those migrants who may legitimately have a merit-based claim. As of September 1st of this year, CBP has returned more than 42,000 individuals to Mexico under the MPP.
Now, let me emphasize a point that I made to — a minute ago: Even though Mexico has stepped up unprecedented — they have joined the United States, as well as our Northern Triangle partners, and really stepped up as true partners and really are really seeing this as a regional crisis, and they have stepped up in unprecedented ways — we need them to do more. We need Mexico to do more.
We need to make sure that they’re sustaining the efforts right now; that the national guard — the 25,000 troops they have deployed — stay on target, stay on task. We need them to continue to join and expand the MPP, which is a game changer right now with respect to stemming the flow. Mexico needs to continue to work with our intelligence folks to use information, share intelligence, and develop target enforcement actions at strategic locations in their country.
So they are stepping up in unprecedented ways, but we need them to continue to sustain that, and we need them continue to do more.
Lastly: deterrence. President Trump is making it clear that if you come to the United States of America illegally, you will be removed. If you come here as an illegal alien in the United States, if you commit crimes or illegally take American jobs, you will face consequences.
Now, let me talk a minute about the border wall — just a little topic that’s been in the news. President Trump has made it very clear that we will build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. And that, as a CBP Commissioner, I can tell you that’s exactly what we’re doing every single day. Together with the United States Army Corps of Engineers, CBP has constructed more than 65 miles of new border wall. And it’s more than a border wall; it’s a border wall system.
And now that we have the Secretary of Defense’s authority to use an additional $3.6 billion, we’re hoping to build between 450 to 500 new miles of border by the end of 2020.
But I want to make sure that I emphasize something, as the CBP Commissioner: The Border Patrol field leadership — they want this wall. This is not a vanity project, as one of the false narratives out there has been, and I’ve heard it numerous times. This President has delivered to the experts, to the Border Patrol, to the leadership — asked what they needed. One of the key things that they said they needed was the wall. And this is not just a wall that’s being built right now; it’s a wall system. It includes access roads, lighting, technology.
And when asked, the leadership universally has said the wall works. Where it’s been used in the past, history has shown the numbers go down. Facts and history show that. And we’ve been saying for a very long time — the experts have been saying, when they were asked by the President, this wall is absolutely needed to help safeguard and secure our southern border, as part of what we’ve always been saying: a multi-layered approach of infrastructure, technology, and personnel.
And where that is implemented — an effective, a strategic location — it works. The experts say it works. The experts have asked for this, and this President and this administration has delivered and they’re going to continue to deliver. As we stated from the beginning, that wall is an integral part of that multi-layer strategy.
In closing, President Trump has used every tool available to address the humanitarian and security crisis at this border. The entire DHS family, including USCIS and ICE, are working together with CBP to secure and restore integrity to the immigration system.
And I, as the Commissioner, could not be more proud of the men and women of the Customs and Border Protection who — they support what they do, and their steadfast devotion to their mission and the rule of law, and doing so with humanity and compassion.
And let me summarize by reiterating that we are absolutely encouraged by the downward trend of apprehension numbers, but we know these numbers could always spike upwards. History has shown that. We’ve seen it happen in the past. We cannot rely solely on the government of Mexico or our Central American partners to solve the pull factors created by our broken system.
Unless the laws change, these numbers will rise again next year, just as we’ve seen in the past. We will again face the same kind of crisis we have for way too long. Congress must absolutely act to pass meaningful legislation to address the loopholes in our current system if we’re going to have a durable, lasting solution to this crisis.
I’ll take your questions. Yes, sir.
Q A couple of quick questions. First, can you address the complaints of reports and abuse of minors in U.S. custody? And secondly, are we giving up on — when this was sold — the wall was sold — we were told that Mexico would pay for the wall. So is that —
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: So let me take your first question.
Q Is that gone?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: So, with allegations of abuse — and we’ve talked about this a lot — of one of the stints that I did with CBP a few years ago, in 2014 — I actually was the Acting Assistant Commissioner for, then, Internal Affairs, which is now OPR — and I can say, from my personal knowledge, that every single allegation — every single allegation that is brought forward with any type of abuse or violation of policy is absolutely investigated to its fullest.
And it’s not just investigated by CBP; there are multiple layers there. So the DHS IG, they have a take at it. If it’s appropriate, DOJ Civil Rights, Civil Liberties section takes a look at that as well. So I’m confident that I can say every single allegation is taken seriously and investigated thoroughly. And when appropriate, appropriate discipline is utilized.
Now, so for your second question: The wall, as far as who is paying for it — as the Commissioner of CBP, I don’t care. That’s political. That’s for politicians to decide. What I can tell you, as the CBP Commissioner, every single mile of wall that is built, this country is more safe. Every single mile of the wall that’s built, it allows the Border Patrol agents to exponentially increase their capacity to do their job. That’s what I can tell you. So —
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: Yes, sir.
Q Thank you, Mr. Commissioner. A federal judge in California has reinstated a ban on the administration’s policy that would restrict migrants’ ability to apply for asylum at the southern border. What is your reaction to that? And a follow-up, please.
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: So, my reaction is, I’m frustrated. The unprecedented judicial activism that we’ve experienced every single time that this administration comes up with what we believe is a legal rule or policy that we really believe that will address this crisis, we end up getting enjoined. It’s very, very frustrating. But, we’re just going to keep going. We’ll continue to work within the current legal framework to address this.
And here’s what should be frustrating to the American people: This President and this administration, we keep having to go outside the box within the current legal framework to come up with new initiatives, new policies, new regulations, because this Congress won’t do their job. This Congress — I’ve talked to multiple people on the Hill. I personally told them exactly that they need to do to pass meaningful legislation that would end 85 percent of this crisis. I think you could put it on one piece of paper and do it in a half an hour, and they refuse to do so. That’s what really should frustrate the American people.
Q And a quick follow. I want to ask you about using resources like personnel and finances related to the United States military. Is that making the, sort of, difference that you thought it would? And are you sensitive to the pushback that we’ve certainly heard from a number of people that, by engaging the military in this particular fight, is perhaps not the best use of their time and energy?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: So, what I would say is, it would be way outside my lane to talk about the impacts of the use of the military or the funding. That really should be left up to the Secretary of Defense.
Here’s what I will say on this, is that I have full confidence in the Secretary of Defense that he would not approve either the utilization of resources or funding that he think would negatively impact his job to carry out his national security mission.
But what I will say is, CBP, we’re doing a national security mission too. The crisis at the southwest border is not just a humanitarian crisis; it’s also a national security crisis.
So again, every — every troop that’s assigned there, they are helping with the national security crisis along the southwest border. Every mile of wall is helping as well. So — in the back.
Q Hi. Alayna from Axios. You talked about needing Congress needing to do more. What’s the latest with Jared Kushner’s immigration plan? We’ve been told that he’s planning to roll it out into a formal bill in the coming weeks.
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: So, I think that’s a great question. Again, that shows this administration’s effort as Congress continues to fail to put anything out there. They haven’t even brought anything to the floor, any meaningful legislation to the floor. So Mr. Kushner, as well as a team, they are trying to put together a comprehensive plan that hopefully gets traction.
DHS is working on that. We have people — I personally am having dialogue and discussions with that. It would be great to be able to put something together that’s meaningful that we could get bipartisan support to actually end this crisis. I applaud his efforts. Absolutely.
Q Thank you, sir. Two questions. One —
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: I’ve been told I can only give people one question.
Q Well, one and a half then, sir.
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: (Laughs.) Okay.
Q The half a question, you attribute the drop in apprehensions to the President’s policies, but isn’t it also true that apprehensions always drop this period of the year during the heat?
And also, I —
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: Well, let me take that question. So I think that’s a good question, because that’s one of the false narratives out there.
So, the past five years, due to seasonal reasons, we’ve seen, on average, those numbers drop about 8 percent. So if you look from, you know, June to July, we saw those numbers drop by 40 percent. So it’s just not supported by the facts.
And now, generally, from July to August — last year, from July to August, as an example, the numbers actually went up 16 percent. This is the season when they start going up. And what I just said, for this year, down 23 percent. Absolutely, it’s what this President and this administration is doing. It has nothing to do with seasonal trends.
Q And the second question: You just now complained about judicial activism and having policies enjoined by the courts. Isn’t it also just as possible that the policies that are being promulgated don’t comply with the law? I mean, isn’t that judge’s job to decide what’s legal and what’s not?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: The judge’s job is to interpret law, not make law. And that’s what I think judicial activism means. That’s a big thing in this country. I believe it’s a big problem in this country. We can disagree on legal premises that have that argument. That’s what courts are there for: to interpret the law, not make the law. And judicial activists’ decisions like this, I think they’re trying to make law instead of interpret that.
So — yes, ma’am.
Q Thank you, Commissioner. We know that the primary drivers of the border crisis are Central American families. How specifically has the administration’s policies affected that demographic?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: So, that’s great. So, at the height, in May, remember when we saw about 144,000 — just staggering, catastrophic numbers — we were ranging between 65 to 70 percent were families or unaccompanied minors. And, remember, because of our broken laws, that meant — those 65 to 75 percent, where they were being released into the interior of the United States never to be heard from again.
Right now, as these numbers not only continue to drastically decline — you know, 57 percent in 90 days — so has that demographic. This month, that demographic fell from 65 to 75 — I mean, 70 percent to 55 percent.
Q And a second question if I may. I understand that the administration says that there have been 65 miles of new border wall built, but that’s in areas where there have been vehicular barriers or smaller, more porous border systems. When can we expect the administration to break ground on border wall where there hasn’t previously been any barrier?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: So I’m really glad you asked that question. So — because again, I think there’s a false narrative out there that goes, “No new wall has been built.” I’m here to tell you, as the Commissioner of CBP, that’s just a lie. Every mile of wall that’s being built, it is a new mile of wall. And again, I’ll reiterate: It’s not just a wall; it’s a wall system. Integrated lighting, integrating technology, and access road.
If you go to those areas where there was pedestrian barriers or their old landing mat, where they can just knock it over the car, or cut a hole in it in seconds — where new wall was going in, that’s exactly what it is. And if you go out there and you ask the agents, they’ll tell you that’s new wall.
The second part of the question is, is that I think is a fair way to categorize this, is where we’re building new linear miles. So it’s not just where there was some physical barrier already there, but new linear miles.
So I told you we’re anticipating, by 2020, about 450 to 500 miles. Right now, we have current projects that are slated in a couple areas, including RGV, which will easily reach 100 new miles of linear wall. So —
Q And when can we expect that —
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: Sorry, I already gave you two. So — yes, ma’am.
Q Is the administration considering offering TPS to the people of the Bahamas?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: Yeah. So — yes. And I think that’s a good question right now, and there’s a little bit of a confusion out there. This is off the immigration, the southwest border, but Bahamas.
And I think it’s clear: CBP is an integral part of DHS National Response Framework. Part of that is, is when people are affected by an area or a crisis like this, like the hurricane, is how can we get them to the United States, if that’s the best decision.
CBP, along with an entire United States government effort to support the government of the Bahamas, is absolutely, first and foremost, life and safety of individuals. So we are — we’ve deployed — CBP — I’ve authorized a deployment of an enormous amount of resources to southern Florida to make sure that we can effectively receive people that are coming in from the Bahamas.
Already, we’ve received two cruise ships, thousands of folks that we have processed. Flights are coming in constantly. We’ve deployed additional folks out to even the small airports. We’re reaching out to the aviation companies and corporations to coordinate. We’re coordinating with the cruise ships every single day to make sure we can do that effectively and in a timely process.
But I want to be very clear, though — because I’ve already seen some false narrative out there — is: That doesn’t mean that we do this with a blind eye. We still have to balance the humanitarian need and assistance of those that need it versus the safety of this country.
So we still will go through the process, but we’re expediting that process, putting more resources down there. We’re waiving the normal fees. I could go on and on with what we’re doing to try to expedite the process. But keep in mind there are still people that are inadmissible to this country. There are still people coming here that could have criminal convictions. We are going to process them and handle them normally to make sure this country is safe.
Q You said “ma’am.” Did you say “ma’am”?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: Yep, in the back, please.
Q Thank you. Just a quick question about Mexico’s role here. Have there been any concessions or pledges by the White House, financial or otherwise, to get them to continue their support?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: So I think that’s a good question. The dialogue continues. The Vice President is going to meet with senior officials from the government of Mexico this week to have that exact dialogue, to talk through about what has been done, what still needs to be done, as we continue to go. So those negotiations are ongoing.
Q Are you going to be part of the meeting from Mexico with the VP?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: If I’m asked, I will.
Q You said that every mile of wall makes the country safer. And you said, by the end of next year, you’re expecting 450 to 500 miles of wall. The Washington Post has reported that the President would like the wall to be painted black and that, by doing that, the extra costs would actually shorten the wall that you’re hoping to build by four miles. Have you objected to this to the President? Is the President, with this directive, making the country less safe?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: No. So I think there’s a lot that goes into it. And that’s why I always say — I give an approximate, like 450 to 500 miles. Because there’s a lot of factors that go into that.
I’m on constant communication with the general — General Semonite — that’s leading the Army Corps of Engineers efforts. And there’s a lot of factors that go in there: the terrain; what they hit when they start digging. You know, the factors go on and on. I think it’s common sense.
And so there are a lot of factors that go into that, to include adding anti-climbing features to the wall as well. Painting is one of those. Sure, there will be a cost associated to that, and that may impact the number of miles. But again, the operational impact it will get through painting.
Q (Inaudible)? Or you support painting the wall, and that would shorten the amount of miles built?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: I think we need to strike a balance between making sure that the miles we build is the most effective wall system we build with respect to also the number of miles. I think it’s a balance we need to strike, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.
Q Sir, yes. Can you detail how long in the process of the Bahamian persons who are leaving because of humanitarian crisis, how long are they allowed to stay? Can you give us a little bit more detail on that; get into the weeds on that? And also, where specifically is this new area of wall, the 65-mile stretch of wall, being built? Where specifically is that?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: So, two questions. So, with respect to the Bahamians coming in, it really is dependent on the level of reconstruction and recovery, right? So we’ll make that determination as that goes on. Again, our first and foremost concern —
Q Would that be years? Would it be months?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: Again, it depends on how long it takes them to recover and rebuild. Again, the United States government, including CBP, our first concern is the safety and wellbeing of those. So, now, we would not support returning people to a place where it’s not safe for them to be.
With respect to the wall, again, it’s being built in strategic locations along the southwest border: Yuma, California, RGV, Laredo. I mean, the list goes on. And we continually work with the Army Corps of Engineers to make sure that we’re striking that balance of our strategic needs and locations and where we can get the most mileage out of what we have.
Q Commissioner, in July, a border official testified before Congress that HIV status is being used to justify family separation at the border, which the CBP later clarified to say it occurs on a case-by-case basis. Is that policy still ongoing?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: Yeah, so what the policy is, is that we’re going to look at, first and foremost, the health, safety, and wellbeing of the child. And we will use a totality of circumstances to make that decision to determine any type of separation. And that’s our policy. It has been and it continues to be.
Q Commissioner, specifically on the Bahamas, there was an incident where about 100 people fleeing the Bahamas got into a ferry and reportedly were kicked off the ferry, (inaudible) they didn’t have the proper documentation. The CBP has gotten a lot of criticism over that because they didn’t have — allegedly, they’re supposed to have these visas. I just wanted to get your reaction on that, sir. And I do have a follow-up question on a different topic.
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: So what I would say about the Bahamas is that you can imagine any type of natural disaster like this, where you have this huge disaster, a lot of resources going on and responding, there’s going to be some confusion. And so what I will say is, that’s what it was.
So, CBP, we’re not working and telling a cruise line that you cannot allow anyone without documents. That’s just not being done, okay? So there’s just some confusion there.
We will accept anyone on humanitarian reasons that needs to come here. We’re going to process them expeditedly. Again, though, if they are deemed to be inadmissible — for example, if they have a long criminal history and they’ve been denied entry in the United States previously, we’re not going to allow that person into the country to roam freely. We’re going to process them like we normally would.
So — yes, ma’am.
Q Commissioner, you said that if the Flores Agreement is revoked, that you think that families will be kept between 50 to 60 days and that it won’t be indefinite. Those were your words. Why should people trust that the Trump administration won’t keep kids and families indefinitely, given the reports of children being held in dangerous conditions? Why should people trust this administration?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: So, first of all, I would probably object to the term that they’re being in held in “dangerous conditions.” We would need to do a little bit more deeper dive exactly what you mean in that.
But here’s two things that I would say. One is, history shows that. History shows — again, we’ve talked about this before, about a non-detained docket, which means those individuals that are released into the United States, its backlog takes years, versus a detained docket. History shows that, under a detained docket, it takes about 40 to 60 days to get through that process.
And then, if you think of it from a common-sense perspective, is: Why would we want to drag that process out? It’s more costly to the taxpayers. It ties up resources from all the agencies that could be doing more law enforcement action to safeguard this country. It serves nobody purpose to make sure and drag it out, to include the immigrants that are here, both on — if you’re here and your claim is found to be false or fraudulent, let’s determine that quickly and return you to your home country.
More importantly is, is if your claim is found to be merit — based on merit, then let’s get that process quickly so you can’t be returned, and released in the United States.
Q Can you give us any indication to whether there are talks ongoing for a safe third country agreement with other countries that the U.S. (inaudible)? Before, it was already announced (inaudible) Guatemala.
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: Yeah, so I think words matter, so I want to stay away from — I think that’s a colloquialism that we use in the United States, “safe third country.” But, yeah, so we are reaching across the aisle, just as we did with the government of Guatemala, to come up with a cooperative agreement to return individuals to Guatemala who had transitioned through other countries.
We are continuing to have those similar discussions for cooperative agreements with other countries as well.
Q Mexico specifically, sir?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: Absolutely. Absolutely. We’re continuing —
Q Do you expect that will happen?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: I’m not going to speculate. We’re still in negotiations. It’s still a little bit early. I’ll leave that up to maybe the Vice President in his discussion this week.
But what I can tell you — think about this from a pragmatic standpoint: If somebody is fleeing their country because they feel that they’re being persecuted for a list of legitimate reasons, it really is in their best interest to apply for asylum to the first country that they have entered outside of the country that they are being persecuted. That’s our design. We believe it’s in their best interest as well.
Q Thank you, sir. With the numbers going down, is there a point at which they’d be down far enough that the national emergency or crisis at the border will be over? And in a related question, they went up under Kevin McAleenan, who is now the Acting DHS Secretary. Why did he get promoted rather than fired?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: So let me take the second one first. That’s way out of my lane or my pay grade. So the — what was the first question again?
Q When will the numbers go down far enough that the emergency is over?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: Right. So what I would say is — that’s tricky. So I’ve been asked that a couple of times. And, you know, trying to just be honest and transparent with that. From CBP, hey, look, if I could see daily apps around 500 a day, that’s manageable, I think.
Would I say that that’s the magic number? The magic number is zero, right? But we have to be realistic. But even saying 500, saying a specific number, it’s not really that easy because it’s not just about the numbers, it’s also the demographics.
Now, one thing we’ve agreed upon — and it’s gets back to your question, ma’am, about dangerous conditions — here’s one thing we agree on: We’ve always said, from day one, that children — children should not be in Border Patrol facilities that were designed for single adults. We’ve said that to begin with.
So, when we’re talking about numbers, if the majority of those numbers — even 500 — are kids, you know what? No. I would not say that that’s manageable, because we still don’t have the proper conditions in Border Patrol — the current, hard structures — to do that. We’re still going to have to maintain soft-sided facilities to provide the conditions that we are providing now, which is what we should be.
Q Thank you. I want to clear up — or at least, from my understanding, clarify something you said to one of my colleagues here who asked about TPS status being granted to Bahamians. You said yes. Can you — are we specifically talking about all Bahamians who have been affected by Dorian who will be granted TPS status? Or are you talking about simply expedited entry to the U.S. for those who qualify?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: Right now, we’re working through that. And thanks for following up. So we — there hasn’t been any formal grant of TPS.
Q Have you had that conversation with President Trump or with other officials in this administration?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: Not yet.
Q Would you plan to? Do you think you will?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: I think so. I think that would be appropriate to have that circumstance, especially depending — I mean, history shows we’ve done that before, right? And so if the history shows that it’s taken, you know, a lengthy time to get the Bahamas back to where these people can return to, I’m sure that that will be a discussion we’ll be having.
Q Thank you, Commissioner Morgan. So, just following up on this dangerous condition point, there are increasing reports of extortion and also kidnappings of MPP returnees. Is your agency tracking this trend? And are you doing anything to lessen the risk of migrants?
And then, a follow-up to that —
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: So you’re talking about those that are waiting in Mexico under MPP?
Q Returning to Mex- — yes.
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: Yeah. So let me address that. And I think that’s important.
So, I’ve read the same reports. I’ve heard the same anecdotal allegations. To this date, Mexico has provided nothing to the United States corroborating or verifying those allegations. But here’s what I would say: Is the mere fact that those allegations are here, this should really drive us to want to have intellectually honest conversations about the core drivers of this crisis. What is at the core, driving this crisis? And we know that, but we’re not talking about it enough.
The cartels, they start exploiting and abusing these vulnerable — this vulnerable population before they leave their home country. They’re selling the bill of goods. They’re promising, “Hey, you mortgage your home, you give us thousands of dollars, and we’re going to take you on this dangerous trek through multiple countries because we’re going to promise you, because of America’s broken laws, you’re going to be allowed in this country.”
The cartels are exploiting them from day one, taking their money. We’ve heard from independent sources that, on this dangerous trek, up to 33 percent are abused. Thirty-three percent. And once they get into the United States, that exploitation doesn’t start. They have to continue to extort them to pay off the bill for taking them through, whether it’s sex slavery, whatever that is.
So, the exploitation, it continues from day one. That’s the core issue. That’s what we want to stop. And MPP is doing just that. MPP —
Q And —
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: Let me finish this; this is important. MPP — one of the most significant thing that MPP is doing is, they’re telling the cartels and this vulnerable population the game has changed. If you come here, even with a kid — it used to be, you come here with a kid, that was your passport into the United States. MPP is saying, “That’s done. That’s a lie now. You can’t. You’re not going to be allowed into this country even if you bring a kid.” So don’t mortgage your home. Don’t pay the cartels. Don’t risk your life. Don’t risk the life of your family. When you get in here, don’t allow yourself to continue to get exploited. That’s what MPP is doing.
Q Commissioner Morgan, let me ask you about — the Office of Special Counsel recently found CBP in violation of DNA collection laws for individuals in their custody — in your custody. When will you start complying with these DNA collection laws?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: So, remember, and I — so, I’m glad you asked this question, because I want to clarify one of the false narratives out there that DHS — because this really is a DHS issue — has violated some law by not doing this. And that’s just factually inaccurate. Is that, previously —
Q You are complying?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: No, let me finish. I’ll explain why we’re not violating the law. Because, under the Department of Justice, the Attorney General —
Q I just want to know if you’re complying. That’s all.
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: — the Attorney General — I’m answering your question, if you’ll allow me too, all right?
So, the Attorney General has stipulated there’s a waiver, and he’s allowed the Secretary of DHS to decide whether they want to apply that waiver. And this was done under former Secretary Napolitano for a whole host of what I think are legitimate operational concerns and budgetary issues of why they granted that waiver.
So, now — so, I just want to make sure, there’s no violation of law. Now, let’s fast-forward to today. I believe, personally, that we need to take a look at this and we need to figure out a meaningful and thoughtful way of where we can begin to look at where it’s appropriate to start applying with CODIS. And we are currently under discussions with DHS and the Department of Justice to come up with a meaningful, thoughtful strategy to begin that.
Q So, what is the timeframe — what is the timeframe for you complying with it, then? What’s the timeframe for complying with it? Mr. Commissioner, what’s the timeframe for complying?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: Go ahead.
Q Why can’t you just answer that simple question? What’s the timeframe for complying with it?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: So, I don’t have a timeframe, because we need to make sure —
Q Months? Years?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: It would be nice for you to let me actually answer your question without you interrupting me.
Q You didn’t answer (inaudible).
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: So — so I’m trying to answer a question right now, okay?
Q Thank you.
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: So — so, we don’t have a time because there’s a lot that goes into that. I mean, it’s not — it’s not just as simple as one day we say, “Okay, start sending out the kits and do it.” It’s not that simple. It’s very complicated.
And this is a DHS issue, and the force — in the continuum of the immigration process, there’s multiple agencies that are involved. We need to figure out where in that continuum would be the most appropriate. We got to talk about budgetary issues. We got to talk about the impact to operations. We have to coordinate with the unions with respect to that. It’s very complicated. And I answered your question, is that we’re going to do this in a very meaningful, thoughtful way. And when we’re ready to actually execute it effectively, then that’s when we’ll do it.
Q Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott have recently said that the policy, with respect to the Bahamas, is confusing. I’m not entirely sure, with respect to what you’ve said so far, is going to clarify that confusion. If you’re a Bahamian, if you’re trying to enter the country, you’re trying to evacuate, what is the visa requirement? You mentioned that there are fees that are going to be waived. Can you be specific?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: Yeah. So, I thought I addressed that. So, this is a humanitarian mission, right? With respect to this. So, if your life is in jeopardy — you’re in the Bahamas, and you want to get to the United States — you’re going to be allowed to come to the United States, right? Whether you have travel documents or not. We’ve already allowed U.S. cits and non-U.S. cits in. We’ve already processed people that have travel documents and don’t have travel documents. And we’re trying to do that in the most expeditious way we can to support the humanitarian mission. But, again, as I stated before, we’re still going to go through the process.
And if you looked at the time that a process — I think the first ship that came in had over 1,400 individuals — we did that ship in a couple hours. Right? It was just amazing work that the folks at CBP did. But we’re still going to do our job. We still need to process you. We still need to vet them to make sure that we’re not letting dangerous people in, taking advantage of this.
And I’ll give you another example is: We’ve had some individuals that brought children with them from the Bahamas, who lost their mom and dad. So we need to make sure that — were they — was there any nefarious activity involved, or were they just doing it out of humanitarian reasons to pick the kid? And, so far, that’s what we’ve seen. But we still have to vet that out. So —
Yes, ma’am, in the back.
Q Thank you, Commissioner Morgan. You’re touting the successes of the administration’s policy changes, regulation, but also the help from Mexico, yet you also said you expect numbers to go up next year if Congress doesn’t act. Do you expect Mexico’s support to wane in 2020 or people to find workarounds for the new policies and rules? Why do you expect it to go up since you’ve seen so much success in the last few months?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: So that’s a great question. So, I am skeptical. Again, make no mistake, Mexico has stepped up in an unprecedented way to be partners and really see this as a regional crisis. But as I said, we need them to do more. And there are specific targeted areas that we continue to talk to that they need to do more.
I am concerned whether the government of Mexico, including our partners in the Northern Triangle countries, are going to be able to sustain the level of commitment they have. But in addition to that, as a country, we cannot rely on other countries, no matter how great their support is, to fix our laws.
If you think about it, it just can’t be sustainable. So that’s why I stick to that, that we need Congress to act. They know what to do. And they have failed the American people by not doing so.
Q Yeah. So just to clarify, you said you’re going to vet the Bahamians coming in. Anyone who’s deemed a threat, are they going to just be dropped back off in the Bahamas and left to fend for themselves? What’s going to happen with them?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: No, of course not. And that’s why I go with our normal procedures. So when we see somebody — normally, even outside the humanitarian process — we will bring them in. Again, we have that immigration continuum with multiple agencies involved. They can come in. They can — you know, they can claim fear. They can — the normal process. Everything will be available to them.
If we have someone that we deem is inadmissible that came from the Bahamas, obviously we’re not going to return them because it’s unsafe. But, for us, CBP, we will turn them over to ICE ERO who will take them and then detain them appropriately and continue out with the procedure.
Okay. One more question. Gentleman in the back.
Q Thank you. You just mentioned the agreement this administration reached with the government of Guatemala. The President-Elect of Guatemala, Alejandro Giammattei, was here last week, questioning this agreement and saying that he hasn’t seen the documents yet. That’s one question. What do you think about this agreement? Is it actually function — like a functional agreement? And also, what other countries in Central — are you talking to you, are you having talks, to reach agreement?
ACTING COMMISSIONER MORGAN: So, good question. So I’m glad you asked them for a moment of clarification. So we have the agreement ready to go, but it has not been ratified by the government of Guatemala, so you’re correct on that. Now, we hope it will be because I think it will be significant.
And then, we’re continuing to talk to not only the Northern Triangle countries — you know, obviously, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador — but also Panama. You know, any country that really can step up and is really a part of this immigration crisis that really is a regional issue.
So, thank you.
1:43 P.M. EDT