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Number Of Migrants Crossing U.S. Border Drops In June, Homeland Security Data Show


This week, I am reporting from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. I'm here talking to people who are affected by the migrant crisis. And that includes Border Patrol agents who carry out immigration policies that continue to harden.

I met up with Carlos Favela. He's a Border Patrol agent, and he spoke to me in his capacity as vice president of the local union. We talked just a few minutes after new numbers came out from the Department of Homeland Security. They showed a significant drop in border apprehensions in June.

And he said one reason for that is the Migrant Protection Protocols policy, which is often called remain in Mexico. He thinks that asylum seekers know that they may now have to stay in Mexico for months before their day in U.S. courts. And so many of them are just not coming.

CARLOS FAVELA: I guess it's a little bit a breath of fresh air for the agents out in the field. The MPP program that has been implemented - those agreements have also helped, actually, with the detention at the Border Patrol stations. So we're seeing less incursions but also less people being detained at the stations, which is a sign of relief because, you know, the Border Patrol doesn't have the resources to hold that many people.

KING: There has been a lot of criticism levied at CBP. What is the biggest misconception about what you men and women do?

FAVELA: The biggest misconception is that Border Patrol agents are evil, and they're mean-spirited. I'll tell you firsthand, nothing could be farther from the truth. Border Patrol agents out in the field are the good guys. They're your heroes that go and rescue. Anything bad happens, they're the first ones to blow the whistle and say, this is wrong.

Border Patrol agents were the first ones to say, we don't have room for this many people. We're running out of food now. What are we going to feed them when we get overcapacity? They were the first ones to advocate for the immigrants.

KING: Some of the conditions we were reading about - kids in filthy clothes, kids with no toothbrushes - I do understand the challenges of not having room. But isn't there a fair question to be asked, can't you get the kids soap and toothbrushes?

FAVELA: Yes. And I'll tell you, agents are the first ones - were the first ones, also, to come out of pocket to buy those things for the children. And I'm telling you because I've seen it firsthand. When all this influx started happening, those were items that Border Patrol agents were actually buying for them. But then again, you know, the ratio between Border Patrol agents and the immigrants is great. So if you put that responsibility on an agent, he would have to buy - so for 30, 40 people just by himself. After a while, it gets really old, and they're like, the agency needs to step in and do something.

KING: Let me ask you about this Facebook group that was reported on in ProPublica, a group for current and retired CBP officers and agents - professionals. There were horribly offensive posts about lawmakers, jokes about migrants who had died. Ninety-five hundred people are part of that group. What is going on here?

FAVELA: All I can tell you is that, you know, us - me as a representative and the union, we do condemn all those posts that were posted on social media. As far as what's going on, I wouldn't be able to tell you. I...

KING: Did you know about the group?

FAVELA: I knew about the group, especially recently...

KING: You did? Before the news broke in ProPublica, did you know about the group?

FAVELA: I knew about the group. I didn't know what was being posted on it. I didn't engage in the group, so I didn't know it was...

KING: Were you part of the group?

FAVELA: I don't recall being part of the group at all.

KING: People were liking those posts. People were posting happy faces - many people, not just three or four people. This seems like a systemic problem to me. Does it seem like a systemic problem to you?

FAVELA: I don't think so. Like I told you earlier, you know, what I see on the ground is the agents going out of their ways, you know, in rescuing these people. It's a shame to shadow that heroism with the social media.

KING: Do you worry about the mental health of Border Patrol agents? Do you worry about people who are just sick, tired, fed up, overwhelmed? Are you seeing evidence in Customs and Border Protection that people are burning out?

FAVELA: We've heard people talking that they were - they are burning out. There's agents talking about how they have to call in sick more regularly than before.

KING: Why?

FAVELA: It's usually because they're exposed to the diseases that are brought by the immigrants down here. So is that more people going on sick? Yes. The evidence of the work stress is there, just because of the monotonous of the job, the continuing of the conditions, especially working with the unaccompanied children. You know, that's not a pretty sight for anybody.

KING: We have been reporting in Ciudad Juarez. We came upon a group of migrants yesterday - about two dozen people from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador. They are living in the basement of a hotel. People were confused and scared. They don't understand what's going on. Do you see a problem with Migration Protection Protocol, with remain in Mexico?

FAVELA: Yeah. I mean, I'm sure. It's a mass migration, and nobody's prepared for. I think it caught everybody off guard. So, you know, these things that are being done may not be perfect. And yeah, there's going to be consequences such as that. It's a very sad situation. What would be the solution? I don't know. The response - or the response that we've gotten from Congress has been very limited.

KING: That was Carlos Favela, the vice president of the El Paso Border Patrol union. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.