Border chief to Congress: No words to describe 'what's going on' at the southern border

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas allowed four Border Patrol chiefs to testify.

Published: February 7, 2023 10:12am

Updated: February 7, 2023 5:12pm

Hours before President Joe Biden was to try on Tuesday to assure Americans he has a handle on border security, one of his top enforcement officers told Congress the situation was so out of control that it escapes definition. 

"We went from what I would describe as 'unprecedented' to a point where I don't have the correct adjective to describe what's going on," Chief John Modlin told the House Oversight and Accountability committee.

Modlin was one of four border patrol agents to testify before the GOP-led committee.

Committee Chairman James Comer slammed the Biden administration's border policies, saying the White House has allowed the border, particularly the southwestern U.S. border, to descend into unmanageable and at times deadly chaos. 

Modlin described a border rife with record levels of illegal crossing and smuggling incidents, an issue he said has sharply escalated in recent years. 

"Fiscal year 18, 19, 20, Tucson Sector had about 60,000 apprehensions," he said.

Modlin also said there were 190,000 apprehensions in 2021, then 250,000 the next year. 

He also said the vast majority of encounters at the Tucson Sector are single adult males attempting to avoid detection.

"The smuggling organizations to our south are very well organized and resourceful," Modlin also said. "They employ various tactics to use thousands of migrants across the border. ... Many are previously deported felons who know they are inadmissible to the United States."

Gloria Chavez, the chief patrol agent of the Rio Grande Valley Sector, echoed Modlin's observation that a huge number of encounters are with "single adults."

"Agents continue to face the most egregious of illicit trends," Chavez said, "such as criminal migrants, gang members, hard narcotics, firearms," and numerous other dangerous factors. 

Chavez said that illegal smuggling organizations have turned to the use of drones to scout  smuggling pathways and law enforcement locations. 

Compared to the U.S. Border Patrol, these organizations "have 17 times the number of drones, twice the amount of flight hours, and unlimited funding to grow their operations," Chavez said.

Asked by committee member Tennessee Rep. Tim Burchett whether she thought the lack of a wall at the border made entry into the U.S. legal, Chavez said: "Well I think it would be easier to walk in an open desert with no barrier."

Committee Democrats at times appeared to be attempting damage control.

Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin at one point claimed "the flow of fentanyl into [the] country," which has reached record levels, was largely being found at ports of entry and with "American citizens, not foreign nationals."

A border patrol agent, on the other hand, told the Center Square on Tuesday that "illegal aliens are carrying narcotics in their back packs or duffel bags."

Comer said conditions at the border are "dangerous, chaotic and inhumane."

The hearing was earlier the source of a showdown between Comer and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the latter of whom attempted to block several of the chiefs from testifying. 

Mayorkas relented after Comer threatened to use "compulsory process" to force the chiefs to appear.

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