EL PASO, Texas — The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will begin releasing immigrants on their own recognizance, with notices to appear before an immigration judge at a later date, due to what officials say are unprecedented apprehensions at the Southwest border that continue to strain CBP resources.
On Wednesday morning, during a press conference, CBP Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan discussed the impact of what he described as a "dramatic increase" in illegal crossings.
“CBP is facing an unprecedented humanitarian and border security crisis all along our Southwest Border,” said McAleenan. “And nowhere has that crisis manifested more acutely than here in El Paso Sector."
"Here in El Paso, we have almost 3,500 migrants in custody this morning, in facilities designed for many fewer," he said. "We had over 1,000 apprehensions on Monday. The vast majority are families from Central America.”
Nationwide, according to statistics released by the CBP on Wednesday, CBP apprehended 12,000 migrants this week alone — an "unprecedented" number considering the agency describes 4,000 apprehensions to be a high number and 6,000 to be at a crisis level.
If continued through the end of March, CBP is on pace to record more than 100,000 apprehensions — the highest monthly apprehensions recorded in a decade.
CBP released the following statement Wednesday morning as they began releasing immigrants on their own recognizance:
"Del Rio Sector has experienced a significant rise in the number of family units arrested throughout the sector. This demographic is challenging in that they cannot be immediately returned to their country of origin. U.S. Border Patrol processing centers are not designed to house the current numbers of families and small children that we are encountering. Due to capacity issues at our stations and the ongoing humanitarian crisis nationwide, Border Patrol has begun identifying detainees for potential release in Eagle Pass with a notice to appear for their immigration hearings."
CBP officials also say the increased apprehensions are having a "detrimental impact" on the CBP's primary border security mission with up to 40-percent or more of CBP personnel working to care for, transport, and process vulnerable families and children.
"CBP’s security posture on the border is negatively impacted," read a statement from the agency. "The same transnational criminal organizations and smugglers that exploit and profit from migrants benefit from that reduced border enforcement presence. Smugglers and criminal organizations are using large groups of families as diversions."
Daily, the CBP is taking more than 60 immigrants to the hospital and have dedicated almost 100,000 hours of officer and agent time to medical transport and hospital watch, according to the agency, as the agency continues to apprehended "unprecedented" numbers of immigrants with severe medical conditions.
"The expanded medical checks and CBP personnel’s concerted efforts are saving lives, but at a high cost to the enforcement mission," stated the agency.
"CBP is taking a number of steps to address this crisis," read a statement released Wednesday. "According to the commissioner, CBP will use additional funding provided in fiscal year 2019 to extend medical contracting to key sectors; augment law enforcement assets with contract support for migrant care and food services; enhance transportation; and establish new processing facilities, including a planned center in the El Paso area."
"Up to 750 CBP Officers (CBPO) from ports of entry along the Southwest border will soon be supporting Border Patrol with care and custody of migrants," continued the statement. "CBPOs will assist with processing, transportation, and hospital watch. This shifting of resources and personnel will have a detrimental impact at all Southwest border ports of entry. CBP will have to close lanes, resulting in increased wait times for commercial shipments and travelers."
"CBP will continue to do everything possible to manage this crisis and protect the most vulnerable in this process," read a statement. "The men and women of CBP are serving with honor and vigilance, despite stark challenges."