Border Patrol agents will soon add asylum officer to their list of duties, according to agents who say they are about to be part of a pilot program aimed at trying to speed up the processing of illegal immigrants.
Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, said the pilot program will begin in two weeks, with agents deputized to begin hearing “credible fear” claims lodged by migrants who say they need protection in the U.S.
The move is part of the Department of Homeland Security’s push to deploy as many resources as possible to try to stem the flow of migrants that is overwhelming the U.S.-Mexico border.
Mr. Judd, an agent himself, said the pilot program will mean more work for agents but over time should help reduce fraudulent asylum claims, which will mean fewer people overall crossing into the U.S. illegally.
“The short-run cost of additional responsibilities and duties, yes, initially it will strain us. But in the long run, it will pay huge dividends and it will allow us to control illegal immigration from here going forward,” he said.
Deputizing agents would be just the latest all-hands-on-deck move for Homeland Security.
On Monday, Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced that she had approved moving up to 2,000 officers from the ports of entry and deploying them to work alongside the Border Patrol in processing, transporting and keeping custody of illegal immigrants nabbed after jumping the U.S.-Mexico line.
Ms. Nielsen also ordered Customs and Border Protection to speed up its plans to make some migrants wait in Mexico while they demand asylum in the U.S.
“We will immediately redeploy hundreds of CBP personnel to the border to respond to this emergency. We will urgently pursue additional reinforcements from within DHS and the interagency. And we will require those seeking to enter the United States to wait in Mexico until an immigration court has reviewed their claims,” she said in a statement.
She did not mention the move to deputize agents to handle the initial step in asylum claims, and her department’s headquarters didn’t respond to a message seeking comment.
CBP, the agency that oversees the Border Patrol, didn’t dispute Mr. Judd but didn’t offer any additional comment on its plans.
But Jessica Vaughan, a security analyst at the Center for Immigration Studies, said agents on the border are aware of the looming pilot program.
She said it may not be a silver bullet but should help speed up the process.
Initial claims of credible fear — usually the first step in the asylum process for border jumpers — currently are heard by officers from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that handles legal immigration. Interviews can be held days after someone is nabbed at the border, and that period can even give some illegal immigrants a chance to disappear.
If Border Patrol agents are able to do initial screenings at the border, then more people can be put into deportation earlier in the process, Ms. Vaughan said.
“The main benefit is that there’s no time elapsed between the time that they’re apprehended and the time they have their credible fear, so there’s no chance for them to abscond before they have their credible fear interview,” she said.
Agents would have to be deputized as asylum officers. It’s not clear what additional training they would need.
Mr. Judd said a rejection of an initial claim of credible fear could mean deportation in as little as 10 days, compared with the years it can take now.
Most migrants who jump the border are supposed to be detained and deported. In recent years, migrants have discovered that if they claim to have a fear of persecution if they are sent back to their home countries, then it earns them a place on the asylum track in the U.S.
Between 80% and 90% of border jumpers who claim credible fear clear that initial bar. In most cases, though, the claims turn out to be bogus later in the process. In up to half of the cases, migrants don’t even bother to follow through and apply for asylum — instead taking the chance to disappear into the shadows.
All told, less than 20% of asylum claims are deemed valid, authorities say.
Border Patrol agents say migrants have been coached on how to claim credible fear, fueling the surge of people. The number of unauthorized migrants nabbed rose from about 60,000 a month late last year to 76,000 in February and, officials say, more than 100,000 in March.
Faced with those numbers, President Trump has said he wants to “close the border.”
It’s not clear what, exactly, he has in mind.
But a top Homeland Security official last week said the shift of CBP officers from the ports of entry will mean some lanes of traffic into the U.S. will have to be closed.
That could increase lines for U.S. citizens and legal residents at border crossings, and it could cause massive delays for Mexican trucks coming through the ports’ commercial lanes.
Democrats in Washington say solutions to the surge in illegal immigration lie not on the border or in U.S. law, but in Central America, which they say needs an infusion of American cash.
They blasted Mr. Trump’s recent move to cut aid to Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, growing out of his frustration with those countries’ inability to keep their citizens home.
“We cannot detain our way out of a crisis created in part by an administration that has continued to implement increasingly cruel policies at our border,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Washington Democrat and vice chair of the House Judiciary immigration and citizenship subcommittee, after returning from a weekend trip to the border in El Paso, Texas.
‘We must address the root causes of migration in the sending countries, end metering policies, protect the rights of asylum seekers, and implement humane and proven solutions like alternatives to detention,” Ms. Jayapal said.