The Biden administration “intentionally unsecured” the southern border because “they see a perceived political benefit from open borders,” according to Mark Morgan, former acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Morgan, now a visiting fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Border Security and Immigration Center, says President Joe Biden has what he needs to secure the border. (The Daily Signal is Heritage’s multimedia news organization.)
Biden just needs to “reach up on the shelf and take off the Trump-era border security plan that we had, dust it off, and implement it,” Morgan argues.
With the uncertain future of Title 42, a public health measure that allowed the Border Patrol to quickly expel illegal aliens during the COVID-19 pandemic, Morgan says, the Biden administration must stop “rewarding illegal immigration” and move to “secure our borders.”
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:
Virginia Allen: We are joined today by the former acting Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection in the Trump administration Mark Morgan. Mr. Morgan is also a visiting fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Border Security and Immigration Center. Mr. Morgan, welcome to the show.
Mark Morgan: Virginia, thanks for having me.
Allen: So, let’s talk a little bit about what is happening at the southern border right now. Last fiscal year, so that’s from October 2021 through September 2022, Border Patrol encountered more than 2 million illegal aliens at the southern border. We are two and a half months into the new fiscal year. What is the situation at the border looking like now compared to this time last year, Mr. Morgan?
Morgan: It’s a total disaster, simply getting worse. And I think what’s important is we really need to compare it to the last year under the Trump administration. Now, look, this is not a Right or Left thing for me. This is about factual data.
So if you look in the last fiscal year under the Trump administration, I think we were around 400,000 total encounters. What we saw the first fiscal year under the Biden administration, as you said, over 2 million. This last fiscal year, we had 2.7 million total encounters. In the first 23, now almost 24 months under this administration, we’ve seen over 4.7 million total encounters with another 1.2 million “got-aways.” So we’re actually getting close to 6 million total encounters, plus got-aways, in the first 24 months of this administration.
Those data points, Virginia, alone are staggering. It’s the worst self-inflicted border crisis we’ve ever seen on our southern border and our lifetime and the data is undeniable.
Allen: And we know that there is a policy called Title 42. This is a policy that was put in place by former President Donald Trump during COVID-19 and it gives Border Patrol the authority to turn asylum-seekers away at the border.
And this is a tool that Border Patrol has used to keep those numbers somewhat, in some sort of way, slightly—it’s hard to say under control because they’re not under control, but it’s helped to cut down on the numbers of individuals coming into the country illegally. The policy was set to expire on Wednesday, but the Supreme Court halted the expiration in a ruling on Monday.
How often is Border Patrol using Title 42 to turn illegal aliens away at the border?
Morgan: Virginia, they’re using it about a third of the time. And I’ll get to that in a second because that’s a very important point, but let’s go back.
Now, look, Title 42 has been in place for decades under the Trump administration. It’s very important. This was a public health tool, it was not an immigration tool. So we were utilizing Title 42 as it was designed and that was to prevent the further introduction of spread of COVID-19, of a deadly infectious disease, in the United States. And in my opinion, it saved countless American lives.
And what’s very important, though, is to be effective meant you had to apply it to everyone coming across illegally. And that’s exactly what we did.
The irony is that during the campaign and the Biden administration since then has opined that we were using Title 42 as an immigration tool—to deny asylum-seekers. It was a blatant lie. And why? Because we were appointed across the board.
The irony is it’s the Biden administration who’s actually been using Title 42 as what it’s not designed to be used for. They’re using it as an immigration tool, as you said, to try to stem the flow of illegal immigration.
How can I say that? Well, because, Day One, they stopped applying it to everyone. They stopped applying it to unaccompanied minors, they stopped applying it to families. And when they had a surge of Cubans, Venezuelans, and Nicaraguans, they only applied it at the very end to Venezuelans.
So how can you take a tool that’s designed to be a public health tool and only apply it to a selective group of people? Well, when you do that, you’re using it as an immigration tool rather than what the tool is designed, as a public health tool.
And so what’s going to happen now—let’s get back. So about a third. They’ve released over 3 million illegal aliens in the United States, plus another 1.2 million got-aways. They’ve only applied Title 42 to around 2 million. So what’s going to result when Title 42 goes is that that 2 million or so that they were removing under Title 42, now they’re going to be releasing into the United States.
It’s going to create even more incentive for more illegal aliens throughout the entire world to continue to come because now, really, there’ll be no tool in place, effectively, to deal with a massive invasion of illegal aliens that we see right now on our southern border. It’s going to take a catastrophic crisis and make it worse.
Allen: So given the situation right now with the Supreme Court putting this temporary hold on the expiration of Title 42, what is likely to happen next? Could we see Title 42 remain in place indefinitely?
Morgan: Yeah, I don’t think so. It’s hard to read what the Supreme Court is going to do these days because I think they’re all over the place. But look, if I was arguing against Title 42, for Title 42 to end, I would just use the Biden administration’s own words against them.
Remember, again, Title 42 is not immigration policy, it’s a public health tool. And this president, President [Joe] Biden, has said that the pandemic is over. Again, this entire time, they have been arguing against Title 42. That was just a runaround to deny lawful asylum-seekers. And again, they have selectively enforced it.
Those are all arguments to end Title 42 that this administration has made themselves. So I think Title 42 is on its last leg.
I hope, though, the Supreme Court says at least there’s going to be a stay because, until now, Virginia, there’s been no plan. Their only plan is to do what they’ve been doing the past two years, is throw more money at it and just get better and quicker at processing and releasing illegal aliens, which just is begetting and driving more illegal immigration, which the result is our border is even less secure than it was the day before, and more drugs, and more criminals, and more potential national security threats are pouring in. That’s not a plan.
Allen: Well, I’ve been very interested to see the individuals who are starting to speak out on this issue and raise concerns over the number of illegal migrants who are crossing our border. You look at the mayor of El Paso, he’s just declared a state of emergency. The governor of California, Gov. Gavin Newsom, he says California is at a breaking point under illegal immigration. The mayor of New York City says public services to New Yorkers could be disrupted under the strain of illegal immigration in the Big Apple. These are all Democrat leaders. Is the Biden administration listening?
Morgan: No, they’re not. Look, this is the same administration that said, “If we say that the borders are open,” meaning, if we disregard truth, reality, fact, in our own eyes, then somehow we’re supporting the cartels.
Look, Rep. Henry Cuellar, who actually has a district in a border state, has said, “Our borders are in chaos. Our borders are, in fact, wide open.”
But before we give some of these Democratic elected individuals too much credit, Virginia, let’s take the El Paso mayor. My question is, welcome to the party. You’re a little late. Where has he been for the past two years? And let’s keep in mind, he declared emergency, these are his own words, because he’s afraid for the migrants.
So my first objection to what the mayor has done, not only is he “Johnny come lately,” but again, once again, he’s only concerned about the interests of the migrants. What about the concerns of the citizens of El Paso and the greater citizens of this entire country? Where has he been for the past two years? Because this border is wide open and, literally, Americans are dying every single day because of the fentanyl pouring across our borders or the criminal, illegal aliens pouring across our borders, including murderers, rapists, pedophiles, aggravated felons, and gang members, or the national security threats. He’s not concerned about that?
So let’s talk about the migrants. The El Paso mayor, where has he been for the past two years when we’ve seen an explosion of the atrocities associated with trafficking that the migrants are going through? Where has he been for the past two years when you’ve seen expansive, the disgusting result of increased smuggling when we have young women and children that are being sexually assaulted on the journey? Where has the mayor been when 53 migrants died of asphyxiation in the back of a tractor trailer or the past 23 months CPB has encountered over 1,300 dead migrants at a border because of this administration’s open border policies, which has sent a message to the entire world, “Now is the time to come”? Where has the El Paso mayor been this entire time, whether he was in office or not, his outrage?
Look, the Gov. Newsom, give me a break, because he goes to the border wearing his Armani shoes. Now, a governor that created the first sanctuary state that is encouraging and says, “We welcome illegal aliens,” has rewarded them, has given them free health care, education, driver’s license, ability to vote in local elections, now he’s worried about it? No. This is all about political posturing and this is about trying to avoid bad political optics when a catastrophic crisis is about to get worse when Title 42 ends. It’s disgusting.
Allen: For those who are on the border, for the Border Patrol agents who are watching this unfold, who are watching individuals like Gov. Newsom come to the border, who are watching the actions of the mayor of El Paso, what are you hearing from them?
Morgan: Yeah. Virginia, first of all, thank you for asking this question. Thank you for thinking about them. These are the men and women every day they get up, they put their badge on, they holster that gun, and they go to the front lines of our borders doing everything they can, risking everything, risking their lives every single day. They know, every single day, they’ve been pulled off the front line. They cannot do their job to protect this country.
They know, literally, that this administration’s open border policies has handed operational control over the border. Every single time an American dies from fentanyl, they feel it and they hurt because they know it came from the southwest border. Every single time another angel family has been created, meaning they lost a loved one at the hands of an illegal alien, they hurt because they know it’s another got-away that they couldn’t catch because they’re off the line processing the illegal aliens. So there could be a potential, literally, a sleeper cell in the United States planning the next terrorist attack and we don’t even know it. They feel that every day. They’re demoralized.
Allen: For most of our Border Patrol agents that have been serving for five- or 10-plus years, what were their expectations when they joined Border Patrol?
Morgan: It was very simple. They’re going to get up every day and be dedicated to doing what they signed up to do, and that’s to protect this country. Their goal is to combat the worst transnational criminal organizations, to counter terrorism and terrorism activities, to secure our border, to stop bad things and bad people from coming in. That’s what they signed up to do and they’re not doing that right now.
I’ll give you a quick example. A 26-year veteran, he’s getting up, and he was getting his uniform all squared away, and he was looking in the mirror, and he said he looked up in the mirror and this rush came over him and he said, for the first time in 26 years, an organization that he was proud to be a part of, he just realized that now he was part of the world’s largest smuggling operation because of this administration. And what more can be said?
Allen: Well, and we know that Border Patrol is short-staffed right now. How short-staffed are they exactly and how is that affecting their abilities to do their job?
Morgan: So, that’s a good question, Virginia, and that’s where some of the misconception comes because what’s happening on our border right now, it’s not a resource issue. Look, we have the same amount of resources that we had from the Trump administration to the Biden administration. So why? Why have we seen a 500%, 600% jump in illegal immigration? Because of policy, because this administration dismantled every effective tool, authority, and policy.
And I can say that, unlike the administration, when they say it, they move on and they can’t give you an example, I can give you an example.
So they stopped building the wall system. They ended the “Remain in Mexico” program, which single-handedly was the most effective tool that President Trump provided us. By February of 2020, we had reduced illegal immigration by 85%. That got more resources, more Border Patrol agents back on the front lines to do the mission they signed up to do, to protect this country from drugs and bad people and bad things from coming in.
They dismantled and ended the Asylum Cooperative Agreements, the safe third countries that we had agreements with, all three Northern Triangle countries. They jettisoned the leverage we had with Mexico. At one point, they had over 20,000 personnel secured in their southern border and increasing interior enforcement. That all went away.
And of course, we know that they gutted [Immigration and Customs Enforcement]’s ability to actually do their job, to lawfully deport illegal aliens that remain in the country illegally.
I could go in. That just hits the highlights.
Look, that’s why I say that this administration took the most secure border in our lifetime and they intentionally unsecured it. This is not through incompetence, this is by design because they see a perceived political benefit from open borders.
Allen: If you were advising President Biden on border security and what to do about the current border crisis, what would you tell him to do first?
Morgan: Look, the first thing I’d do, and I know this is going to sound flip, but I’d say, just go to the beach. And when you do, though, right before you go to the beach, just reach up on the shelf and take off the Trump-era border security plan that we had, dust it off, and implement it.
Now, look, I know this sounds facetious, I know that sounds political, but it’s not. Look, I’ve served this country for 40 years. I’ve worked under six administrations, both Republican and Democrat. Heck, I was chief of the Border Patrol under the Obama administration and then-Vice President Biden. This is not about Right or Left for me. This is about red, white, and blue. There’s no downside to securing the border.
And I don’t care what you say, people need to, just for a second, take a step back, put their emotion aside, and just look at the facts. And the facts are, under the Trump administration, I can tell you, I was there, I was on the front lines, I was a commissioner, and President Trump and administration gave us a network of tools, authorities, and policies that enabled us to develop the most secure border in our lifetime.
Again, the wall system, again, which is an integral part of Border Patrol’s multilayer strategy of infrastructure, technology, and personnel. Anywhere along the southwest border, you ask any Border Patrol agent where you have a laydown of the right level of infrastructure, technology, and personnel, every single measure of success improves.
We had the Remain in Mexico, we had the Asylum Cooperative Agreements. He was actually facilitating funding ICE so that they could do their job, especially focused on criminal illegal aliens that were still residing in this country illegally.
That’s what he needs to do. He needs to de-incentivize, stop rewarding illegal immigration, secure our borders, and, at the same time, look, we’re the greatest country on the face of the planet, we can also talk about how we can get better at our legal immigration process. I’m all-in, but we cannot allow illegal immigration because it drives our borders to be insecure and to jeopardize the safety and national security of our country.
Allen: Mr. Morgan, we have two years left in the Biden administration. Can you give us the best-case scenario and the worst-case scenario of what you think illegal immigration into America and the situation on the border will look like two years from now?
Morgan: Yeah. So, the worst-case scenario is that nothing changes and we keep at this.
Look, the first 60 days of this new fiscal year, there’s already been a half a million total encounters and over 160,000 to 170,000 got-aways in 60 days, Virginia. Let that sink in, the first 60 days.
So at that pace, that means, in a 12-month period, we’re going to see about 3 million total encounters and 1 million got-aways in a 12-month period. And if that continues, then you’re looking at between 12 to 14 million total encounters and got-aways in a 48-month period.
It’s insanity. It’s absolutely unsustainable. And again, it’s jeopardizing every aspect of our nation’s safety and national security. We cannot allow this to happen.
Now, the best-case scenario, because the Dems still own the Senate and, of course, the White House, is that we need that House, the Republicans, to stand up, to have the political strength, courage, and will to do what they need to do. They need to hold people accountable. They need to impeach people like Secretary [Alejandro] Mayorkas. And they need to pass the first House bill that lays out the plan on how to secure the border.
And look, The Heritage Foundation, along with [the Federation for American Immigration Reform] and NumbersUSA and some other conservative think tanks, led the way and developed a coalition ladder that really provided a road map on what the Republican House should do and what are the steps they need to do to pass meaningful legislation to secure the border. If they follow that road map, we’ll be able to secure the border.
In addition to that, though, if they do not, if the Senate won’t pass the bill and if President Biden won’t sign onto the bill, the Republicans need to use the power of the purse to refuse to fund the agencies that are responsible for carrying out these open border policies. And if that means having the political courage, strength, and will to shut down the government to protect this country, that’s what we need them to do.
Allen: Mark Morgan, former acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection. Mr. Morgan, thank you so much for your time today. We really appreciate you joining us.
Morgan: Virginia, thanks for having me. Anytime.
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