With Donald Trump’s presidency now only a matter of time instead of a hypothetical, border agents are bracing for a surge in illegal immigration at the southwest border as people race to get into the United States before the door shuts.
At the same time, according to the head of the union representing 16,5000 U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents, career-level managers of the agency are likely to push back against the directives of outgoing political appointees of President Obama.
“They have a new boss. They know it. They need to endear themselves to him.”
“You can expect to see CBP pushing back and holding those people,” said Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council. “They’re going want to make it look like they’re in lockstep with [Trump] … We’re already seeing it now.”
Judd said the processing center at Nogales, Arizona, is set to open soon, and he added that he expects other processing centers to open, as well, in order to increase detention capacity.
Career-level supervisors will be more worried about offending the incoming administration than the outgoing one, Judd said.
“They have a new boss,” he said. “They know it. They need to endear themselves to him.”
Immigration experts said it is hard to predict how would-be illegal immigrants in Mexico and Central America will respond to Trump’s election. Chris Chmielenski, director of content and activism at NumbersUSA, said many who were considering coming to the United States might to decide it is better to take their shot in the waning days of the Obama administration.
“At the same time, I think there will be a risk,” he said. “Because if they get detected during a Trump administration, they’ll be the first ones to go.”
Chmielenski, whose organization favors stricter immigration controls, said he doubts the Obama administration will take a hard line on illegal immigration during its final days. Breitbart News reported on Sunday that the Obama administration had angered border agents by reassigning officers to the Rio Grande Valley Sector in order to assist with the ongoing flood of unaccompanied minors.
Chmielenski said one area where the administration can have an impact is with dubious asylum claims from young illegal immigrants. The policy has been to, whenever possible, place those children with sponsors in the United States — even when they, themselves, are illegal immigrants — to await an immigration court hearing that in many cases is years away.
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“The Obama administration will probably be pretty lenient on that for the next couple months,” Chmielenski said.
Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said rushing the border to beat Trump’s inauguration “might be the impulse that people have.”
Like Chmielenski, though, Mehlman said the coming Trump presidency might serve as a deterrent.
“It’s hard to know the psychology of the people coming,” he said.
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Judd, the border patrol union president, said he think officers will be freed to more aggressively pursue border-crossers. The increased detention space will make it less likely that those illegal immigrants will simply be released with a notice to appear in court.
“You’re going to see less people giving themselves up,” he said. “Right now, lots of people cross the border and throw their hands up saying, ‘Come get me.’ Now, they’re going to try to evade apprehension.”
Judd acknowledged that mid-level supervisors do not have the authority to overturn orders of the political appointees, such as a rule requiring them to release — without even issuing a notice to appear — anyone who has been in the United States continuously since Jan. 1, 2014.
But Judd predicted that agents would be more aggressive in trying to determine if those caught at the border are telling the truth about their residency.
“We didn’t even question them [in the past],” he said. “It was taken at face value.”