Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf admitted the policy that makes asylum-seekers wait in Mexico for their U.S. claims to be processed has “an uncertain future.”
Wolf remarked on the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) at a Tuesday budget hearing before the House Homeland Security Committee, a day before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the Trump administration can continue to enforce the policy despite ruling there is no “serious possibility” that MPP is “consistent” with federal law.
The 9th Circuit limited its ruling to California and Arizona, and left the final decision on the policy to the Supreme Court. The group that brought suit against MPP, Innovation Law Lab, argued that forcing migrants to wait for possibly months in Mexican border areas with State Department travel advisories warning against Americans visiting the regions inflicts extreme harm on the migrants.
“Last Friday, the first case of coronavirus was confirmed in Mexico with five additional cases reported since. That same day, unfortunately, a misguided court in California suspended the migrant protection protocols,” Wolf said. “Hours later, private attorneys and NGOs demanded entrance of over 2,000 illegal aliens, causing CBP in Mexican officials to temporarily close a handful of ports of entry for several hours.”
“Thankfully, the court entered a temporary stay, but I will say that MPP has an uncertain future,” Wolf continued. “And we know from experience that the journey to the U.S. border puts migrants in very poor conditions. They often arrive with no passports, no medical histories, no travel manifests. This administration will continue to closely monitor the virus globally as well as our hemisphere and will adjust our proactive measures as necessary.”
DHS needs to identify potentially sick travelers “not only at airports of entry but also land ports of entry on our northern border and our southern border,” as well as at maritime ports.
Wolf said DHS reached out “well over a month ago with not only Canada, but with also Mexico to understand the procedures that they were doing, not only on their border, but just generally writ large.” Meanwhile, “the nature of the Southwest border and the fact that we continue to see over 1,000 individuals a day cross the border illegally is certainly concerning to me.”
The acting secretary later clarified that he wasn’t blaming current coronavirus cases in the U.S. on migrants.
“Oftentimes, they don’t travel with medical history, right? So, that is of concern, because the individuals that are coming in at our 11 airports that are being funneled, we have very good information of their travel history, of their medical history,” Wolf said. “We’re not going to have that same set of fidelity for the individuals if this continues to grow at the southwest border.”
Asked about the department’s budget priorities for the year, Wolf said they “continue to be border security, enforcing our immigration laws, cybersecurity, American preparedness, transportation security.”
“So we have some high-level priorities and then, obviously, we had to look at the resources that we have and prioritize specific programs under each of our overall strategic goals and our funding goals as well. It’s a give-and-take,” he added. “We have to look at programs that perhaps have been funded in the past to see if they continue to be useful when we base that against the threat and we will continue to evaluate that and work with Congress to set those priorities.”
“When we talk about securing the border, I talk about it in a number of different ways. It’s not only the physical infrastructure that we need and the capabilities that we have with a new border wall system that we are constructing, but it’s also additional technology, but it’s also the resources and the people and the staff there to do that job,” Wolf said.