Immigrants are processed by the U.S. Border Patrol after crossing the border from Mexico on Aug. 20, 2022 in Yuma, Ariz. Officials say Border Patrol encounters spiked from 400,000 in fiscal 2020 to 1.6 million in fiscal 2021.

Immigrants are processed by the U.S. Border Patrol after crossing the border from Mexico on Aug. 20, 2022 in Yuma, Ariz. Officials say Border Patrol encounters spiked from 400,000 in fiscal 2020 to 1.6 million in fiscal 2021. Qian Weizhong/VCG via Getty Images

Border Patrol Agents Cut Corners on Migrant Processing as Numbers Spiked

DHS remains ill-prepared for properly handling unusually high numbers of migrants, IG says.

Border Patrol agents allowed migrants into the country without opening a file on their cases or providing them with identification numbers, according to a new report that found the agency had to implement shortcuts as its facilities were overwhelmed. 

The migrants were properly searched and screened for potential criminal histories, the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general found in a report released Wednesday, but were frequently released without properly documenting their entry. Border Patrol is required to create “alien registration numbers” for each individual it apprehends seeking to enter the country between a port of entry and attach the number to an “alien file,” but it failed to do so in more than one-in-four of the sample of cases the IG examined. 

As Border Patrol encounters spiked by 300% in fiscal 2021 agency officials said they instructed front-line personnel to not always assign the numbers and create the files in order to “expedite processing and move migrants out of Border Patrol facilities that were exceeding capacity limits.” DHS last year gave border agents more discretion to quickly release migrants they apprehended by instead giving them “notices to report” to Immigration and Customs and Enforcement within 60 days. Border Patrol immediately turned away more than 1 million of the 1.6 individuals it encountered in fiscal 2021 under the pandemic-era Title 42 authority, which remains in effect despite the Biden administration’s attempts to end it. 

Agents told the IG the guidance was constantly changing depending on the day, as officials varied their instructions based on capacity at Customs and Border Protection facilities. The IG noted CBP has yet to formally state its policy for expediting processing of migrants when apprehension numbers rise. Through July, Border Patrol encounters in fiscal 2022 had already topped the total for fiscal 2021. It has now had more than 2 million encounters with migrants in the current fiscal year, an all-time record. 

“Border Patrol’s informal and expedited practices for processing migrants could jeopardize the Government’s ability to track migrants released into the United States and ensure migrants appear for immigration proceedings,” the IG said. “Because DHS continues to experience surges, it is critical that Border Patrol establish formal policies detailing expedited processing procedures to ensure proper documentation of screening procedures and adequate tracking of migrants released into the United States,” the IG said. 

Nearly all of those who Border Patrol allowed into the country without establishing numbers and files were either given “notices to report” or paroled into the country and provided a tracking mechanism. In some cases, the head of a household was given a number but the rest of the family was not. CBP policy requires individual numbers and files for each individual older than 14. Agents must also take those migrants’ headshots and fingerprints as part of the screening process, which the IG said they did appropriately. 

In some cases, the IG said Border Patrol was unable to provide migrants’ files because they had lost or disposed of them. Those files did not have registration numbers associated with them and the agency had no policy for retaining them. 

“As Border Patrol continues to process large numbers of migrants at the southwest border, conducting and evaluating the results of record checks is imperative to ensure migrants with aggravated criminal histories, gang or drug cartel affiliations, or terrorist watch list records are not permitted to be released into the United States,” the IG said. 

CBP said it had taken steps to address the IG’s concerns, noting it established a new policy to ensure all migrants allowed into the country with tracking mechanisms receive their registration numbers. The IG said the agency has still failed to develop a plan for those provided with “notices to report,” however, and said the agency’s response was incomplete. 

The Biden administration has faced some criticism for its handling of the record levels of migration. Last year, the president tapped the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate an uptick in the number of unaccompanied children arriving at the border. DHS has developed a six-pillar plan to handle the increase in immigration expected to occur when the administration is permitted to lift Title.