Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Monday directed Customs and Border Protection to speed up its planned surge of 750 officers to assist the US Border Patrol along areas of the southern border where there has been a influx of migrants crossing into the US from Mexico.
She also told the border agency, which is overseen by DHS, to look at adding possibly more than 2,000 officers to the border areas.
Last week, CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said he was moving 750 officers from “key roles” at the ports of entry to help Border Patrol care for migrants, including helping with processing and transportation, adding that the shift would cause a slowdown in trade and an increased wait for cars and pedestrians crossing legally.
The administration has not provided additional details of where the personnel would be moved from or where they would be deployed.
CBP expected March to be the highest month for encounters at the southern border in a decade, according to McAleenan. The final monthly numbers have not yet been released.
Nielsen also directed the immediate expansion of the administration’s policy of returning asylum seekers to Mexico for the duration of their immigration proceedings, calling for “hundreds of additional migrants” to be returned to Mexico each day.
So far, this policy is in effect in California and parts of Texas, but Nielsen said her department would look to expand the locations for returns as well.
“The crisis at our border is worsening, and DHS will do everything in its power to end it,” said Nielsen in a statement.
The return policy, known as the Migrant Protection Protocols program, is being challenged in court by a group of migrants that were sent back to Mexico to await their court dates.
Attorneys seeking to block the policy, argued in in federal court last month that the relatively new policy was dangerous, illegal and “hurting people.”
However, the administration has argued that “the executive branch has broad discretionary authority” over whether to bring deportation proceedings against people unlawfully in the US and enacted this policy to “combat the serious problems at the southern border.”
Nielsen’s announcement comes a few days after President Donald Trump threatened to close down the border between the US and Mexico.
“Mexico must use its very strong immigration laws to stop the many thousands of people trying to get into the USA. Our detention areas are maxed out & we will take no more illegals. Next step is to close the Border! This will also help us with stopping the Drug flow from Mexico!” Trump tweeted Saturday.
Over the weekend, the administration said it was cutting off aid to the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, otherwise known as the Northern Triangle, one day after Trump said they had “set up” migrant caravans for entry into the United States.
“We were paying them tremendous amounts of money. And we’re not paying them anymore. Because they haven’t done a thing for us. They set up these caravans,” Trump said Friday.
The majority of migrants arriving at the southern border are families and unaccompanied children from these Central American countries.
Less than a week before the administration said it would cut aid to the Northern Triangle countries, Nielsen was in Honduras to sign a what she called a “first of its kind” regional compact agreement with Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
The accord was aimed at preventing irregular migration, combating criminal organizations and ultimately helping with US border security.
“We are united, we are committed, we are operating jointly,” she said at the signing ceremony. But added that “more must be done and the US must see measurable improvements in the short term.”
Meanwhile, Nielsen is traveling in Europe this week to meet with United Kingdom and Swedish officials before participating in the G7 Interior Ministers’ Meeting in Paris, France later this week.