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EP sector chief on migrant surge: ‘So much stress on the system … we want fair process’

Speaking before the Doña Ana County Commission on Tuesday, the Chief Border Patrol Agent for the El Paso sector painted the picture of an overwhelmed agency with not enough agents to handle the number of asylum seekers entering Las Cruces and El Paso.

“There is so much stress on the system, you have a variety of people that continue to exploit that,” Hull said. “What we want is a fair process.”

Customs and Border Protection has been forced to accomodate a relatively new demographic: Central American families with children. Federal facilities aren’t designed to handle so many families and have released thousands with a promise of attending their court hearings.

“Twenty years ago, we were lucky if we had juice and crackers for those in custody,” said Chief Patrol Agent Aaron Hull. “Now, our stations are looking more like Walmarts with diapers and baby formula.”

On Friday, April 12th, the federal government began releasing hundreds of migrants a week in Las Cruces.

“The challenge is, when the system is this overloaded, everyone’s being released on their own recognizance,” Hull said.

“It is a crisis, yes,” said Cullen Combs, the emergency manager for Doña Ana County. “We did not ask for this.”

On Monday, April 16th, Las Cruces City Councilors allocated $75,000 to giving the migrants some form of shelter. The alternative?

“We were given one choice frankly: between having the Customs and Border Protection agency drop them on our streets and simply leave them to fend for themselves,” said Councilor Greg Smith on that day. “Or to do what we are doing,” Smith said.

“The number of people who would make excited calls to our police department – because someone who doesn’t look like them is standing outside their door – would cost us a tremendous amount of money,” said Councilor Jack Eakman at that meeting.

“There is no governmental funding for this,” Combs said. “There’s been a small mercy fund from the city and the county.”

Since then, county and city leaders have been working around the clock to accomodate the migrants.

“I did 20 plus years in the military,” Combs said. “I’ve been in situations like this, but that’s called combat. Normal, day-to-day operations in your community, that is not sustainable.”

In 2015, Chief Hull told commissioners that 26 percent of migrants the El Paso sector received were from countries other than Mexico (OTM). In 2017, the number grew to 70 percent. By 2018, 90 percent of the migrants received by the El Paso sector were from countries other than Mexico.

Hull questioned the legitimacy of their plea for asylum.

“Somewhere along the line, (they) figured out that if they claim fear and if they come as a family unit, they’re going to be allowed to remain in the United States,” he told commissioners.

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