Border officials sounded the alarm Tuesday over the surge of hard drugs, weapons and gang members being caught coming into the U.S. from Mexico – while also touting recent progress in stemming illegal immigration since a historic spike in May.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan and Deputy Commissioner Robert Perez spoke in El Paso, Texas, with border agents and a section of newly constructed border wall behind them. He said the eye-popping interdiction numbers stand as a testament to the hard work of law enforcement on the ground, but also a sign of congressional inaction.
“They accomplished what I’m about to tell you when Congress refused to get off the sidelines, refused to do their job, refused to pass meaningful legislation to protect this country and address the loopholes in our current legal framework,” he said.
While the amount of drugs seized at the border in fiscal 2019 – 750,000 pounds — was lower than the prior year, officials said that was due to a big drop in marijuana seizures. Seizures of harder drugs such as heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and fentanyl all increased. CBP seized about 83,000 pounds of methamphetamine, compared with 68,000 pounds in fiscal 2018; 101,000 pounds of cocaine, compared with just under 60,000 the prior year; and 2,800 pounds of fentanyl, compared with 2,200 pounds the prior year.
"It’s not just a humanitarian crisis, it’s a national security crisis,” Morgan said.
More than 16,000 criminal illegal aliens also were caught, including what officials said are thousands with convictions ranging from sex crimes to homicide and drug trafficking. CBP also picked up 1,700 inbound weapons — a more than 300 percent increase from fiscal 2018. They also nabbed 1,200 gang members, up 20 percent from the previous year.
“These bad actors make their way into every town, city and state in this nation,” Morgan said. “If you have an overdose in Ohio or Detroit…more likely than not that drug came from the southwest border.”
Morgan noted more than 40 percent of agents had been diverted off the front lines due to the humanitarian crisis tied to families flooding across the border, saying CBP officers conducted more than 4,900 rescues of migrants crossing the border over the past year.
Recent stats have demonstrated that apprehensions at the border have decreased dramatically in recent months since the highs of May. Officials have in part credited regional agreements with countries such as Mexico, which has seen the expansion of the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) — by which tens of thousands of migrants have been sent back to Mexico to await their immigration hearings rather than being released into the U.S. It is part of a broader effort by the administration to reduce pull factors for migrants looking to make the journey north.
But the numbers for the year overall reflect an enormously difficult year for law enforcement on the ground.
In fiscal 2019, there were a total of 1.1 million enforcement actions, a 68 percent increase from the previous year. Of those, 859,000 were apprehensions, an increase of 113 percent.
The numbers also show that there were more than 150,000 “gotaways” — illegal immigrants who crossed the border but escaped apprehension. Officials frequently warn these “gotaways” include many criminal illegal immigrants.
Morgan and other members of the Trump administration have been walking a line between touting the efforts in bringing down apprehensions and securing the border, while warning that the crisis is not over and needs more resources — and particularly congressional action.
In that context, Morgan again touted the need for a wall on the southern border, speaking in front of the barriers in El Paso. So far, 75 miles of wall have been built, often replacing flimsy existing barriers, as part of an effort to have 450 miles of wall built by the end of 2020.
Democrats have repeatedly dismissed the wall as an unnecessary "vanity project" that is against American values. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., last week introduced a bill that would reclaim $3.6 billion in funds reallocated by the Trump administration for the wall.
But Morgan said the wall is a vital tool in making sure that criminals, drugs and weapons don't make their way to towns and cities across America, even those far away from the border.
“If we miss it, it’s coming to you,” he said. “If we miss it, it’s coming to your city. If we miss it, it’s coming to your neighborhood — that’s the truth and that’s the reality.”
Fox News' Charles Watson contributed to this report.