In an internal memo, CBP’s Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan announces the designation of CBP as a “Security Agency,” with the same highly secretive intelligence and law enforcement classifications as the FBI and Secret Service. Irvin McCullough, a national security analyst with the Government Accountability Project, tells The Nation that this designation will result in less transparency, as it grants CBP more liberty to exempt certain records from public disclosure.
The Washington Post reports that President Trump’s border wall will most likely require the installation of storm gates to prevent flash floods during the monsoon season in Arizona. Migrants and smugglers have taken advantage of these open, unmanned gates in the past in remote regions of the border.
CBP names Raul Ortiz to the second-highest post within Border Patrol days after Rodney Scott was named national chief. Neither Ortiz’s nor Scott’s positions require Senate confirmation, and are instead chosen by acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan. Ortiz worked for six years as the second-highest official in the Rio Grande Valley Sector in Texas, which sees the most migrant apprehensions along the U.S.-Mexico border and is considered a grooming post for managers who are promoted elsewhere.
The U.S. Border Patrol discovered one of the longest smuggling tunnels ever found on the Southwest border in the Tijuana, Mexico/San Diego area. It is about 5.5 feet tall and 2 feet wide and runs at an average depth of 70 feet below the surface. With features like an extensive rail cart system, forced air ventilation, and high voltage electrical cables and panels, the tunnel exposes the limitations in President Trump’s border wall.
At a campaign rally in Wildwood, New Jersey, President Trump reiterates his 2016 election vow that Mexico will pay for the construction of the border wall. Despite claiming the wall is being built at record speeds, he fell short of repeating his goal of 450 miles by the end of 2020. Construction has just surpassed 100 miles.
Newly installed panels from the border wall in Calexico, California fall over in high winds. The sections that gave in had been recently set in new concrete foundations. The National Weather Service reported that winds in the area gusted as high as 37 mph.
In a column published by CNN’s website, retiring Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost calls on Congress to tackle the “humanitarian crisis” at the border through updated immigration law and additional resources for CBP and its partners. Provost notes that at the peak of the 2019 child and family migration crisis CBP was overwhelmed on a daily basis, as agents spent 60% of their time processing, transporting, feeding, and providing medical care to those apprehended instead of patrolling and securing the border. The current state of border security, Provost says, is not sustainable.
CBP awaits a decision from U.S. District Judge David Bury, as a seven-day trial wraps up over temporary holding conditions for migrants apprehended in the Tucson sector. The case arose from a lawsuit from a coalition of groups suing over miserable conditions in CBP custody despite an earlier injunction mandating minimal standards. CBP custody should not last more than 72 hours, but during fiscal year 2019, of 63,490 people apprehended in the Tucson Sector, one in five (12,030 total) was held longer than 72 hours.
Protesters and migrant advocates in Brownsville, Texas, hold daily vigils for asylum-seeker rights. Across the Rio Grande, in Matamoros, Mexico, locals protest the migrant tent encampment of over 2,500 asylum-seekers who await their U.S. immigration hearings. Residents of Matamoros argue the increase in trash and open sewage caused by the encampments sullies the city’s image, as the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols program has caused the number of migrants in the city to double and then quadruple.
The Trump administration’s border wall tops $11 billion in cost—nearly $20 million per mile, according to a National Public Radio story citing a recent CBP status report. It is “the most expensive wall of its kind anywhere in the world,” NPR reports. Initially, the administration had planned to construct 576 miles of a “new border wall system,” though DHS now requests funds to construct 270 miles to “block drug smuggling routes on federal land.” As of mid-January, the current administration has constructed 101 miles of border wall. Only one mile has been built where there was no previous barrier.
The House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border Security, Facilitation, and Operations holds a hearing to examine the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) efforts to prevent child deaths in custody. Six migrant children died in government custody between September 2018 and May 2019, the first such deaths in a decade. The hearing focused on Carlos Hernandez Vasquez, a 16-year-old Guatemalan migrant, who died of the flu on May 20, 2019. Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY) says DHS has “consistently failed to maintain transparency by stymieing congressional inquiries… concerns that they are hiding serious issues with management.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that border wall construction may impact 14 square miles of native habitat on 30 separate tracts of its land in the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Since it is federally owned, it is the first land in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley sector targeted by the government for wall construction. The Fish and Wildlife Service owns 135 individual tracts of land comprising 105,000 acres that stretch along the last 275 river miles from Falcon Dam to the Gulf of Mexico. The refuge network has been in the making for 40 years, is still growing, and has cost $82 million so far.
Only three Border Patrol agents have been fired, the Washington Examinerreveals, in the six months since ProPublicadisclosed the existence of a highly offensive private Facebook page used by CBP officers and Border Patrol agents. CBP sent 59 cease-and-desist letters to members of the Facebook group, threatening future legal action if they continued inappropriate social media activity that degrades people in custody, lawmakers, or others. The group had 9,500 members, including senior Border Patrol agents.
CBP announces that Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost will step down this month. Provost is the first woman to lead CBP in its 95-year history and one of President Trump’s longest-serving senior officials. She was unsuccessfully pressured to retire by acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan in August following a report that Provost belonged to a private Facebook group used by CBP agents to mock public officials and those taken into custody. Provost’s successor, Rodney Scott, was also revealed to be a member of the group.
The Trump administration is planning to divert an additional $7.2 billion in Pentagon funding for border wall construction in 2020, according to documents obtained by U.S. media. This would bring the total federal funds allocated to border fencing to $18.4 billion. There is bipartisan opposition to the diversion, as more congressionally approved renovation and construction plans for U.S. military installations risk losing their funding.
Chad Wolf, acting secretary of Homeland Security, travels to Yuma, Arizona, to announce the Trump administration’s completion of 100 milesof new barriers along the border with Mexico. Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan notes the administration’s goal of 450 miles by the end of 2020 is likely out of range. Nearly all of the 100 miles completed by the administration are labeled by CBP as “replacement barriers,” though the White House requests the agency stop using the term.
Texas-based U.S. District Judge Randy Crane lifts a restraining order against the construction of a segment of privately built border fencing in south Texas. The ruling follows a dispute involving Fisher Industries, a North Dakota-based construction firm that is one of the principal contractors for the Trump administration’s border wall construction. Fisher wants to install 3 miles of steel posts near the Rio Grande. Tommy Fisher, the company’s president and a vocal supporter of Donald Trump, says a crew will be ready to begin construction on January 12 and could install all of the posts in a week.