Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen responded Monday to the surging immigration crisis at the southwestern border, ordering a stepped-up deployment of hundreds of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers.
Nielsen instructed CBP commissioner Kevin McAleenan to immediately increase the agency's temporary reassignment of personnel to cope with the massive influx of people. Some 750 agents are expected to be redirected to border sectors facing the highest rates of entrance, and Nielsen authorized CBP to consider raising that number substantially if necessary.
Nielsen further instructed CBP to expand the Migrant Protection Protocols, which obliges it to return apprehended individuals who have entered illegally and who are seeking asylum back across the Mexican border. Those returned under the MPP then remain in Mexico while any legal determinations happen, with the goal of ensuring that individuals seeking asylum are neither detained indefinitely at DHS facilities nor released into the interior on their own recognizance.
Under Nielsen's order, the MPPs will be expanded to cover individuals apprehended both at and between Points of Entry. They will also be used outside of California and Texas, the two states in which they are currently in operation.
"The crisis at our border is worsening, and DHS will do everything in its power to end it," said Nielsen. "We will not stand idly by while Congress fails to act yet again, so all options are on the table."
Nielsen's order follows a massive upswing in apprehensions at the border, with some 100,000 people expected to have been apprehended by the end of the month. Last week, DHS indicated that it held some 12,000 people in detention.
Most of the people apprehended in the past month were families or unaccompanied minors, most arriving to the United States from Honduras, Guatemala, or El Salvador. CBP projected last week that the number of unaccompanied children apprehended would surpass levels deemed a crisis in 2014.
This rate of influx prompted even Obama-era Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to acknowledge what President Donald Trump has long said: "We are truly in a crisis."
For his part, Trump doubled down over the weekend on firm immigration policy, cutting aid to the three central American nations from which most of the migrants are originating. He also again suggested he might close the southern border if Mexico does not do its part to halt the inflow.
"We have right now two big caravans coming up from Guatemala, massive caravans, walking right through Mexico," Trump said. "So, Mexico is tough, they can stop them. … And if they don't stop them, we're closing the border. We'll keep it closed for a long time, I'm not playing games."
For her part, Nielsen reached out to Congress in a letter last Thursday, asking for expanded funding and authorities to cope with the explosion.
"What we are seeing is nearly unprecedented in the modern era," she wrote. "We all want to enforce the laws of the United States, ensure a safe and orderly migrant flow, protect our communities, reduce the flow of drugs, facilitate legal trade and travel, secure our borders, and support vulnerable populations. This is one of the most serious crises the Department of Homeland Security has ever faced, and we need your help."