Number Of Families Trying To Cross U.S. Border Alarms ICE Agent
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
I'm David Greene, reporting this week from the U.S.-Mexico border. We spent an hour yesterday inside a building that's about 20 miles from downtown El Paso. It looks like a beige warehouse. There's no sign out front. It's the headquarters of ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement for the El Paso sector.
We were meeting Jack Staton. He's the special agent in charge of investigation. He started doing law enforcement work on the border when Bill Clinton was president.
How many years have you been doing this work?
JACK STATON: Twenty-four.
GREENE: And he's alarmed by what's happening right now. Families, many from Central America, have been arriving in staggering numbers. A different agency, Border Patrol, was criticized when it held some of those migrants underneath a bridge in downtown El Paso, some for several nights in a row. This influx has become a strain on the government, Staton says.
STATON: Resources for all of the United States government that do immigration enforcement are being pulled for what's happening on the southwest border right now. The numbers are so high of individuals crossing that the assets that would usually do interdiction of alien smuggling, narcotics smuggling, etc., are being pulled away to handle the processing and the care of these individuals that are turning themselves in at the border.
GREENE: Figuring out why these numbers have gone up is part of agent Staton's job. He investigates the smuggling network that's brought many families here through Mexico.
STATON: When you really look at this and you break it down, it's economic in nature. These individuals want a better life. They want to be able to make more money, so they're going to come up. If they think they're going to get to stay here, which is what they believe is going to happen, that's the reason you have these sheer numbers coming up right now.
GREENE: Are the criminal networks that you've investigated, like the smugglers, are they sophisticated enough to know the situation up here and to go to communities in some of these countries and to say, look; this is a moment. Like, buy my services. I can get you up there at a time when, you know, the U.S. government is being strained. You're going to get in; you might not even have to be in ICE custody at all. This is a moment where Border Patrol is letting people out into the United States. Is it sophisticated enough - I mean, these networks - that they could make that case and basically market themselves?
STATON: Well, of course. It's - you know, today with social media, people have access to so much information. And that's a good thing, right? But that can also be used to recruit people and put them in harm's way.
GREENE: So these smugglers are using social media, I mean, to get the word out?
STATON: Some are using social media, yes. And then - anybody can use social media. And if you look at it, you can see that, like you just said - well, you know, Immigration Customs Enforcement is releasing individuals; I saw it on different news channels. They're talking about that on a regular basis. So that is also a pull factor. Individuals know - hey, there's a chance I could be released.
GREENE: There's an extraordinary blame game that's obviously going on. I mean, there are people who blame President Trump. There are people who blame the Democrats. There - you hear from the mayor of El Paso who blames everyone in Congress and the Trump administration. I mean, it's - you are here on the ground doing this work. What do you need to be able to handle this crisis?
STATON: Well, it's support. Everybody down here needs support - and I'm talking about the law enforcement community - to handle what's going on. You know, I don't get into politics. Politics is not what I do. I conduct criminal investigations for homeland security.
GREENE: That's what - I mean, that's why I asked you the question.
STATON: What I can tell you I can see is I see an increase. I have concerns. And it's not just me; it's me and all my colleagues. We all have concerns on what's going on down here. And if you don't think the border has had a massive increase of individuals coming over and that there's a cause and effect to that, go down and look at the border.
GREENE: I feel like - and it, again, happened in the last few days when there's been some of the reaction to the conditions under the bridge in El Paso - that people see ICE and they hear those three letters. And there are many Americans who think that you're an agency that is inhumane, that treats people cruelly, that is not welcoming. It doesn't make the United States feel like a welcoming place for people who want to come here. Does that ever get to you?
STATON: Well, yes (laughter). It does.
So when you talk about ICE - ICE is a very large and complex organization. So within ICE, you got Enforcement and Removal Operations, and then you also have Homeland Security Investigations, which is the portion of ICE I work for.
So when you're looking at ICE - when people say - or you've heard them say abolish ICE or, you know, we shouldn't have ICE or ICE in inhumane - how can you say that when we're rescuing children or we're rescuing a trafficking victim or we're taking fentanyl off the streets or we're taking heroin and meth off the streets? How can you say we're inhumane? It tells me you don't know what our agency is and what our mission is and what we do.
The agents that work for me are extremely dedicated. And they're, you know, just driven with, you know, helping people and getting out and identifying the perpetrators of these different crimes and bringing them to - bringing them to justice. So - but you know, from - I don't see how someone couldn't watch the news and see this - some of the negativity about their agency and not feel, you know, hurt by that.
GREENE: Thank you for your time.
STATON: No, thank y'all.
GREENE: Jack Staton is a special agent in charge of investigations with ICE.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.