US Border Patrol chief calls southern border ‘threat to national security’, citing 140,000 migrants who have evaded capture
US Border Patrol chief calls southern border ‘threat to national security’, citing 140,000 migrants who have evaded capture

Washington — In an exclusive interview with CBS News, US Border Patrol Chief Jason Owens called the situation on the southern border a “threat to national security,” expressing concern about tens of thousands of migrants who have evaded detention and entered the country secretly for the past five months.

Owens said the Border Patrol is “getting close” to recording one million migrant apprehensions between ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border in fiscal year 2024, which began in October. For the third year in a row, his agency is on track to record two million arrests by the end of the fiscal year in late September, Owens added.

“That number is big, but what keeps me up at night is the 140,000 known escapes,” Owens said in his first exclusive interview as Border Patrol chief, referring to the migrants who are caught by cameras and sensors. crossing into the US illegally but not detained.

“Why are they risking their lives and crossing into areas where we can’t reach? Owens asked. “Why are they hiding? What do they have to hide? What do they import? What are their intentions? Where do they come from? We simply do not know the answers to these questions. These things to us are a threat to our communities.”

The situation, Owens added, represented a “threat to national security.”

“Border security is a big part of national security,” he said. “And if we don’t know who’s coming into our country and we don’t know what their intentions are, that’s a threat and they’re taking advantage of a vulnerability that’s on our border right now.”

Still, Owens agreed that the vast majority of migrants coming to the U.S. border are “good people.”

“I think the migrants that we’re dealing with that are turning themselves in, yes, I think they’re generally good people,” Owens said. “I wish they would choose the right way to enter our country and not get off on the wrong foot by breaking our laws.”

Although a “very small percentage” of those detained at the southern border are serious criminals, such as convicted gang members or sex offenders, Owens said most migrants turn themselves in to Border Patrol agents to escape poverty or violence in their home countries .

“They come because they are either fleeing terrible conditions or they are economic migrants looking for a better way of life,” he said.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) statistics show that a small percentage of migrants processed by the Border Patrol have criminal records in the U.S. — or other countries that share information with U.S. officials — and an even smaller percentage have been convicted of serious crimes . Available data and studies also suggest that illegal immigrants in the US do not commit crimes at a higher rate than native-born Americans.

Still, senior law enforcement officials, including FBI Director Christopher Wray, have raised concerns about criminals, including potential terrorists, taking advantage of unprecedented levels of migration along the US southern border over the past three years.

In both fiscal years 2022 and 2023, the Border Patrol reported more than two million apprehensions of migrants illegally crossing the southern border, both all-time highs.

Owens said the unusual flow of people into the U.S. is driven mainly by cartels.

Asked if the cartels set the “rules of engagement” at the southern border, Owens said, “yes, they absolutely do.”

A career officer who spent more than 25 years with the Border Patrol, Owens took over the agency’s leadership position in June 2023 following the retirement of Raul Ortiz. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas called Owens a “talented, selfless and inspirational leader” when his promotion was announced.

In his interview with CBS News at CBP headquarters in Washington, Owens also called for stricter immigration policies to reduce the number of migrants arriving at the southern border.

“I’m talking about imprisonment. I’m talking about removal from the country and I’m talking about a ban on return because you chose to come in an illegal way instead of the established legal ways that we set up for you, he said.

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