In-Depth: Interview with Department of Homeland Security spokesperson on border situation

Posted at 2:48 PM, May 17, 2023

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — ABC 10News interviewed a public affairs officer from the Department of Homeland Security to garner the agency's perspective on the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border since Title 42 ended on Thursday, May 11.

Luis Miranda, the principal deputy assistant secretary for public affairs at DHS headquarters, spoke about the differences between the San Diego border region versus spots in Texas, provided the latest numbers to put the evolving situation into context and discussed the vetting process for migrants.

10News also asked about how DHS is ensuring public safety, especially after the arrest of an Afghan national on the FBI's terror watchlist came to light over the weekend.

Below, you'll find a transcribed version of this interview broken down into a Q&A format. At the top of this page, you can watch the full interview, which was conducted via Zoom.

Question 1: Title 42 has been lifted now for a few days — how have things looked at the border so far? Specifically, can you tell me about the condition of people coming to the border, or anything else along those lines?

Answer: Since the lifting of Title 42, we've seen encouraging signs. We have had an average of 4,400 daily encounters, and less than 4,000 encounters on each of the last two days. So that certainly shows that the message that we've been sending, that we're going to enforce our immigration laws, that we're going to do what we were not able to do under Title 42, which is to apply consequences, is getting out. And we want to continue to deliver that message.

At the same time, we continue to be mindful of the fact that dynamics could shift quickly. We know that smugglers are going to continue to try to peddle lies and and try to push migrants to come with any excuse that they can find. So, we're mindful of that. But what we've been doing for the last year and a half is to plan to be able to scale as necessary. And so while we're seeing these encouraging signs, we're ready for whatever else happens in the coming days.

Migrants stand next to the single toilet available to them
Migrants stand along the border wall in San Diego next to the single toilet available to them.

Question 2: DHS Secretary Mayorkas mentioned the prep work going into this... Considering that preparation, are these the type of numbers that you thought that you might see, or did you think we might see some of these higher numbers of people attempting to come in that we saw potentially as Title 42 was about to expire?

Answer: We certainly expected that they could be higher, but we always knew that there was also a dampening effect, which is that under Title 42, we couldn't apply consequences under U.S. immigration law. It was a Band-Aid fix that required us to just quickly expel people administratively. What that meant is that consequences, like a five-year ban on reentry, criminal prosecution for repeat offenders, those were blocked off and made much more difficult under Title 42.

And so we knew that we would see a reduction of recidivism — under Title 42, you could try one, two, three, four or five times, and there were no consequences. Now there are, and so we did expect that that would make some shifts downward, even as we saw potentially increasing numbers.

But look... this is the reality that we're dealing with, is that it can be unpredictable and we have to be ready for different scenarios. And so, what we did was we put the contracts in place, the mechanisms to be able to move people quickly to decompress sectors, if necessary. The ability to do a lot of removal flights and expulsions while working with with our partners in Mexico and throughout the region so that we could, you know... In the last few days, for example, we've done flights to over 20 countries... We have the mechanisms in place to adapt, and we're going to continue to have to shift depending on the dynamics as they play out.

Question 3: A lot of people who may not be from our area, or even the people that are from here, may not realize how big the differences are between the San Diego border, and say, Texas' El Paso border, or different regions across the border.

Is there a way that DHS handles different areas? Especially in terms of processing migrants: What types of people are coming in to the different regions? What other differentiations are there between these areas?

Scene at the border near San Diego Friday, May 12
A large group of migrants gathered nearby a San Diego-based processing center at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Answer: It's a great question, because every sector does vary a little bit. You know, in San Diego, you have a very urban dynamic. In a place like Tucson, the terrain is much harsher, very difficult terrain, and you see the involvement of the transnational criminal organizations on the other side of the border in different ways.

In the Tucson sector... they're looking to help single individuals evade detection. So what we've done is we've deployed technology along the border, more personnel, you know, different resources. So we have a mix of infrastructure technology and personnel aerial monitoring — that's enabling us to be able to adapt as necessary.

In some sectors, we might need more of that than we do in San Diego, where we have an aerial monitoring device that sends information to a tactical operations center that deploys Border Patrol exactly to where there's movement in San Diego, over by San Ysidro or along the way. There's just different dynamics, but certainly we adapt and and we see shifting patterns.

So, you might see one sector go up in traffic this week, but it might be a different sector next weak. And so we have to be ready for that.

El Paso is just one example — had dropped to, you know, third or fourth highest traffic in terms of attempted and counted crossings a few weeks ago, and then all of a sudden, it jumped to number one. And those are difficult to predict. But again, that's why what we've been putting into place is the mechanisms and the ability to then quickly shift resources as needed, and to be able to address whatever that looks like. And then to be able to impose consequences, which we can now do post Title 42.

Question 4: One of our county supervisors said on Sunday that an Afghan national who was on the terror watchlist was arrested here. Looking at the big picture first: When something like this happens, how damaging is that for the overall movement of people at the border who are seeking asylum, or whatever it may be? Does it potentially demonize a larger group of people in that case?

Answer: Yeah, I don't think that's the right word for it, because we do have to differentiate... Regardless of who's coming across, we're going to screen and vet them. And we're going to make sure whether they pose a national security risk, or even just a public safety risk of any kind, and in those cases, they're likely to be referred to ICE and kept in detention until there, we can remove them.

So — it's going to vary. And the fact that we can even identify someone on that kind of watchlist is also a testament to the evolution of DHS. Look, think about what it was like 20 years ago when DHS was just created. In the aftermath of 9/11, we were still looking at how do we make sure that agencies are talking to each other, and that we have intelligence at work with our partners, not just in the interagency, but in partner countries around the world. The success of those lists, and the ability to detect people on them, is a testament to the fact that we're tracking that.

And you know, there's a good chance that if we see someone on that list, the border is not the first time we knew that they were in transit. So really important that we continue to look at the broad picture of our national security mission, regardless of what's happening with migrants, but we screen and vet every individual, and that's the mission.

That's what our first unified Border Agency and CBP is intended to do. And so when we see things like that, I think we do have to put those things in different buckets and understand where they're going to go. And the FBI, obviously, is going to play the lead role now on whatever follow up that might be. But again, this is the national security mission that DHS was established for.

border patrol agent talking to migrants near San Diego processing facility
A Border Patrol agent talks to migrants near a processing facility in the San Diego area at the U.S.-Mexico Border on Friday, May 12, 2023.

Question 5: In the lead up to Title 42's expiration, we spoke to Border Patrol and agents about the tremendous amount of resources, especially staffing, that have been allocated to ensure a smooth process on the front lines. Still, the unions said the agents were feeling strained.

Based on your discussions with the agency, do you think they're getting the help that they need? Can you put into context what the conditions are like for the border agents as they work to process the migrants?

Answer: Yeah, absolutely. We do everything we can to get our Border Patrol front-line personnel everything that they need in terms of resources and support, and some of it is just modernization and improvement. We talked a little bit about what it looks like in different sectors. One of the things that we've gotten Border Patrol agents is new technology so that they can receive feeds from AI-driven cameras that get them something in the palm of their hand in a device that shows them exactly where they need to go when when that activity is detected.

But we've also gotten them more support in terms of being able to improve processing by deploying 1,200 processing coordinators in the last few months, that are helping them not have to do as much on the backend, but be able to get back on the line quickly so that they can do their jobs and things like mobile processing, so that an agent on the northern border or in Florida could be helping process migrants who are on the southern border.

And that's making a difference. But absolutely, we take a lot of care and effort in making sure that we're providing our workforce the support that they need. This is Police Week and it's a good reminder that they're putting their lives out on the line and doing a lot of hard work on the front lines of a very challenging situation, both on the migration issue but again also on the law enforcement and national security side. And we continue to honor that and look for ways to make sure that we're providing them the support that they need.

It's a complicated situation, but we're doing everything we can to make it both manageable and just safe, orderly and humane.