The Biden administration’s border policies, or lack thereof, are fueling a humanitarian and national security crisis at the southwest border. This administration is inflaming this crisis while directly enriching the numerous cartels exploiting the crisis to smuggle tens of thousands of migrants, and thousands of pounds of deadly contraband, into the United States.
First, let’s take a look at the numbers that underscore just how quickly the Biden administration took a secure and stable situation and turned it into the worst border crisis in the history of our nation. In fiscal year 2019, there were over 850,000 southwest border patrol apprehensions, with a peak of over 130,000 in May of that year. Those numbers were historic.
To confront this crisis head-on, the Trump administration employed innovative and creative solutions such as the Migrant Protection Protocols, which fast-tracked meritorious claims and rooted out fraudulent ones, and bi-lateral Asylum Cooperative Agreements that facilitated a regional approach for asylum seekers and discouraged migrants from engaging with cartels and making the lengthy journey to the U.S. southern border.
Also, the coronavirus pandemic allowed the Trump administration to use tools such as Title 42, which allowed for the rapid removal of illegal border crossers due to the ongoing public health crisis.
The bottom line: these policies worked. In fiscal year 2020, border patrol apprehensions were cut by more than 50 percent to just over 400,000.
Unfortunately, even though the border policies of the Trump administration were proven effective, the incoming Biden administration reflexively placed politics over national security and suspended or canceled nearly all of them upon assuming office. This has predictably led to a massive surge in border apprehensions.
Thus far in fiscal year 2021, border patrol apprehensions along the southwest border have already exceeded 900,000, more than double that of fiscal year 2020 and with nearly four months left in the current fiscal year. And since the Biden administration assumed office, border patrol apprehensions have spiked, averaging roughly 170,000 apprehensions per month since March.
This doesn’t come as a surprise given that the Biden administration has resumed the catch-and-release policies of the past and made clear that enforcement and deterrence are not priorities.
But the local communities, non-governmental organizations, and government agencies forced to address this crisis on the U.S. side of the border aren’t the only people being affected by the shift in border and immigration policy that emerged after January 20.
An even more pernicious side effect of these misguided policy directions are the numerous transnational criminal organizations (read: cartels) that have benefited by exploiting our inchoate immigration system and lax border security by smuggling and extorting migrants for financial gain.
The sheer volume of money involved is almost incomprehensible. Cartels can charge each migrant thousands of dollars to assist in the lengthy, and often perilous, journey from the Northern Triangle to the southwest border. Undeterred by any concerns of being caught, these cartels operate in plain sight, advertising their human-smuggling services on social media sites.
This turn of events has deposited upwards of $14 million per day into the pockets of these human-smuggling transnational criminal organizations, according to a report earlier this year.
But it’s not just migrants that are being smuggled into the United States. Cartels have been exploiting the border crisis to move vast amounts of deadly drugs into the country, reversing the recent gains made in the fight against drug and opioid abuse.
Thousands of pounds of fentanyl, a highly potent synthetic opioid, have been trafficked through the southwest border, and in ever-increasing numbers. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials reported record seizures of roughly six hundred pounds per month over the past twelve months, and that only represents the amount that was actually seized. Much more is actually getting through the border than is ultimately interdicted.
This dramatic increase in supply to vulnerable communities already beleaguered by the pandemic has created conditions ripe for a deadly uptick in overdoses.
How are cartels moving so much contraband across the southwest border? Again, this is a byproduct of poor policy decisions by the Biden administration. When the decision was made to immediately halt border wall construction the ability for CBP to expand its system of impedance and denial was halted as well.
The physical border wall system allows CBP to better control where people and contraband flow across the border. This allows for the better utilization of resources to enhance interdiction efforts. When construction of the border wall system was stopped, gaps that were in the process of being closed were thus kept wide open.
And it is increasingly difficult to mind those gaps throughout the border when CBP is required to pull an estimated 40-50 percent of border patrol resources away from the frontlines to help process the vast numbers of migrants now crossing the border daily.
The Biden administration’s border crisis is most evident along the southwest border but it is by no means relegated to that geographic area alone. Until this administration takes seriously its responsibility to secure the border and to craft a coherent and fair set of immigration policies—ones that prioritize consequences for illegal behavior rather than rewarding illegal behavior—the current track will continue to enrich the cartels at the expense of the migrants they directly exploit as well as the American communities within which their contraband flows.
Scott G. Erickson formerly served as the (A) Chief of Staff, Deputy Chief of Staff, and Counselor at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security during the Trump administration. Previously, he served for nearly twenty years as a law enforcement officer. He is currently a principal at Wolf Global Advisors.