Year of Unprecedented Migration at Southern Border Examined at HSGAC Hearing

WASHINGTON — The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday heard a fiscal year wrap-up of the ongoing migration and humanitarian challenges at the southwest border. The committee discussed the administration’s actions over the past year to curb the unprecedented migration we’ve seen at the southern border.

“During the 2019 Fiscal Year, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents [at our southern border] apprehended a total of 977,509 inadmissible or illegal migrants,” noted Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) in his opening statement. “At the peak of the crisis in May, 144,000 migrants were apprehended or deemed inadmissible. By September, that number was reduced to 52,000. Although the illegal flow has decreased from May’s daily average of 4,651, the daily average still exceeds 1,400. Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has stated that, during his tenure, 1,000 apprehensions was a bad day. Now, even our best days exceed that mark.

“Until we get illegal immigration under control, it will be almost impossible to reform our legal immigration system to meet the needs of a growing economy and reflect America’s genuine compassion for refugees and asylum seekers. I stand ready to cooperate with anyone who will acknowledge reality and work together in good faith to accomplish that goal.”

During the hearing, Senator Johnson also addressed how the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does not have the resources or time necessary to properly vet credible fear claims, and the impact that illegal immigration has on legal immigration. Video of the hearing is available here, and transcripts and clips of these exchanges are as follows:

Johnson on DHS not having the resources or time necessary to properly vet credible fear claims… CLIP

SENATOR JOHNSON: We literally let hundreds of thousands of people in, and they didn’t even have to claim credible fear?


Acting CBP Commissioner MARK MORGAN: That’s correct.


JOHNSON: That is pretty noteworthy. I mean, I want people to understand that. We just let people in. They didn’t even have to claim that unbelievably low standard that, by and large – you said 20 percent, I think, and under Central America it’s lower than that, that people claim that and they still don’t have a valid asylum claim.

MORGAN: And that’s one of the parts, sir, that I was talking about, about the legislation that does need to get passed with respect to this crisis is the Flores Settlement Agreement, which says we can only detain people for 20 days. That’s what’s driving this. There’s not enough time to do the proper vetting that we need to do to complete that process, so we have to release them.

Johnson on the impact that illegal immigration has on legal immigration… CLIP

JOHNSON: Do you know of another nation on earth, other than Germany over a couple of years with the Syrian migrant flow, that grants legal permanent residency to more than a million people per year?

Acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director KEN CUCCINELLI: Absolutely not. We’re the most generous nation in the world by far.

JOHNSON: That comes even close?

CUCCINELLI: Not even close.

JOHNSON: We do that on an annual basis. We are granting legal permanent residency.

CUCCINELLI: And in the humanitarian space, America is number one way beyond two, three and four combined.

JOHNSON: So I’ve had people come up and basically lobby me and say, ‘It’s just outrageous we’ve reduced the number from 70 to 50 and now to 15,000.’ I’ve pointed out to them, ‘Well, that’s the official total. But you’re kind of ignoring the 608,000 people that come in here that would basically be refugees as well.’ I mean, that’s the problem with the illegal flow, it absolutely affects the legal flow. Correct?

CUCCINELLI: Absolutely. And we had almost 80,000 asylum cases last year, same legal standard as refugees. It is the same type of population, but they’re landing on our border and on our soil, and so we shifting resources to contend with that. And that backlog continues to grow.

NOTE: USCIS received more than 105,000 credible fear referrals and adjudicated more than 78,000 affirmative asylum applications. In addition to the credible fear screening workload, the asylum division adjudicated more than 78,000 affirmative asylum claims in FY 2019.