WASHINGTON – On Wednesday, Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee wrapped up a series of eight border security hearings by focusing on the security of America’s maritime border. “Following this hearing and prior to our August recess, our committee is planning on issuing an interim report laying out all the components of our border and the extent that we have it secure and the extent that we’ve not secured it,” Johnson told Wednesday’s witnesses.
After several months examining transnational crime, vulnerabilities, technology and infrastructure solutions, and other challenges at U.S. borders and ports of entry, Johnson said it has become clear that the border is not secure. “General McCaffrey, in testimony before this committee, estimated – and it hasn’t been disputed yet – that we are only interdicting at the southwest border somewhere between 5 and 10 percent of illegal drugs coming into this country,” Johnson said. McCaffrey, former director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, had testified before the committee at a border security hearing in March.
“A lot of your activities involve interdicting drugs through the maritime borders. Is it a similar type of percentage?” Johnson asked.
“Over the past several years, we’ve averaged between about 11 and 18 percent in terms of maritime interdictions of the known drug flow toward the United States,” Rear Admiral Peter J. Brown, Assistant Commandant for Response Policy for the U.S. Coast Guard, told Johnson. The Coast Guard has a national interdiction target of about 40 percent.
He testified Wednesday along with Randolph D. Alles, Assistant Commissioner for the Office of Air and Marine for U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and Peter Edge, Executive Associate Director for Homeland Security Investigations for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the DHS.
“I guess that just underscores really how unsecure our borders truly are,” Johnson said. “It’s a really sad and frightening reality.”
Brown later told committee members that foreigners’ perception of American policy greatly affects the migration of illegal immigrants, specifically pointing at Cuba and Haiti as examples. “It’s a combination of policy operations, but also public messaging,” Brown said.
“So U.S. policy creates direct incentives and disincentives for illegal immigration?” Johnson asked.
“Correct,” Brown said. “Smuggling organizations absolutely exploit uncertainty or perceived changes in policy to profit from people’s desire to get to the United States.”
Johnson pointed out that between fiscal years 2012 and 2013, the number of Haitians trying to enter the U.S. through the Mona Passage between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico increased from 39 to 1,760. Trying to understand why the number spiked and how it was successfully addressed, Johnson asked Brown to explain what the U.S. did.
“Following the earthquake in Haiti in 2010,” Brown explained, “the expedited removal of Haitians who were already in the United States was stopped at that time and was not resumed, and by 2013, migrant smuggling organizations in the Dominican Republic began to take advantage of that by bringing Haitians already in the Dominican Republic to U.S. territory.”
“So U.S. policy, we stop expedited removal, repatriation back to Haiti … and as a result we saw a pretty good spike of Haitians trying to come in this country illegally?” Johnson asked.
“Accompanied by a spike in death and injuries in migrants who attempted to make that crossing,” Brown added. U.S. policy for expedited removal was reinstated, Brown said, and “very quickly, once that became public knowledge, the traffic across that vector essentially dried up.”
“After the first removal, the maritime flow in the Mona Passage decreased by 80 percent?” Johnson asked to clarify.
“Correct,” Brown confirmed.
The chairman’s opening statement can be found here.
The full hearing video can be seen here.