CBP Performing 'Direct Release' of Migrant Families as Trump Threatens to Close Border

For the first time in over a decade, U.S. Customs and Border Protection is performing "direct releases" of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. This comes as President Donald Trump threatens to shut down the border completely.

Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said the agency would be releasing migrants from its custody "on a risk basis" due to overcrowding at both its facilities and those overseen by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.

McAleenan later explained that the "direct release" of migrants will mean that instead of an ICE official deciding on whether an individual can be accepted into custody or needs to be released pending a court hearing, that decision will now be made by a Border Patrol agent and the release "will happen more expeditiously and directly."

"That is not something we want to do," he said. "It is something we have to do given the overcrowding in our facilities."

McAleenan said the decision to allow direct releases was made "reluctantly, and it represents a negative outcome for enforcement."

"It represents an increase in flows that will follow," he continued. "And it impacts the morale of our team, but is the only current option we have from a life and safety perspective to try to reduce the overcrowding in our facilities."

McAleenan's announcement came as CBP revealed March was on track to become "the highest month" in apprehensions and encounters with migrants at the border in over a decade.

"CBP is facing an unprecedented humanitarian border security crisis all along our southwest border and nowhere has that crisis manifested more acutely than here in El Paso," McAleenan said. "We are now on pace for over 100,000 apprehensions and encounters with migrants—with 90 percent crossing the border illegally between ports of entry."

On Thursday, President Trump renewed a threat to shut down the southern border in response to the flow of migrants arriving with asylum claims.

The president blamed Mexico for the influx of asylum seekers, asserting that the country was "all talk and no action" in its efforts to stop migrants from making their way to the U.S.

Meanwhile, in addition to performing direct releases, CBP said on Wednesday that its Office of Field Operations would be temporarily reassigning up to 750 CBP officers to Border Patrol Sectors "that are confronting the unprecedented humanitarian and border security crisis on the Southwest border."

"Border Patrol processing facilities on the southwest border have far exceeded capacity and the Border Patrol does not have the personnel to process, care for, and transport individuals in custody without help from its partners," the agency said in a statement, adding, "CBP officers will support sectors with care and custody responsibilities, including hospital watch and transportation.

The agency said the increase in the flow of migrants arriving at the border, many of which were arriving as families, "is having a detrimental impact on CBP's primary border security mission."

"With up to 40 percent or more of CBP personnel working to care for, transport, and process vulnerable families and children, CBP's security posture on the border is negatively impacted," the agency said.

"The same transnational criminal organizations and smugglers that exploit and profit from migrants benefit from that reduced border enforcement presence. Smugglers and criminal organizations are using large groups of families as diversions," it claimed.

McAleenan said he did not know how long CBP officers would be reassigned for.

"We don't know. Right now, it's an immediate response to a crisis that's overwhelming our capacity," he said.

"We have, in some sectors, an average of 40 percent of our Border Patrol agents all fully engaged in just the care, transport, and processing of migrants," he continued. "Those agents are not on the line. They're not able to provide their border security functions. We need to balance that out. We need to get them help, not only from our CBP officers, but from mission support professionals and contracts and ideally, by interagency partners to increase our capacity."

The CBP commissioner said the agency asked for help from interagency partners across the federal government, including the National Guard and the Department of Defense (DOD).

"They're already working alongside us to assist with our border security mission, to provide capacity for emergencies, to include security at the Ports of Entry, as well as medical care," he noted. "That partnership is going to continue. And we're looking at ways that DOD can even help us more in looking at additional resources that they can bring to bear here at the border."

U.S. Border Patrol agents provide food, water and medical screening to scores of migrants at a processing center after crossing the international border between the United States and Mexico, in El Paso, Texas, on March 22. U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it has reached a “breaking point” at the border. Mani Albrecht/CBP/Getty