US Border Patrol chief says migrant smugglers are ‘exploiting’ the southern border’s ‘vulnerability’

U.S. Border Patrol Chief Jason Owens said migrant smugglers are taking advantage of vulnerabilities at the southern border and the importance U.S. officials place on responding to humanitarian issues.

In an interview that aired Sunday on CBS News’s “Face the Nation,” Owens said smugglers “absolutely are” setting the rules of engagement at the southern border, adding, “They dictate what the flow is going to look like, and we respond to it.”

“Then we try and get out in front of it and deny them the ability to use these areas, especially ones that we think are going to be dangerous for us and for the migrants,” Owens continued. “But at the end of the day, there’s over 1,900 miles of border with Mexico.”

He said it is not feasible, even with 20,000 border patrol agents, to staff everywhere along the southern border at once.

“The tactic is, they’ll push groups across knowing that we’re going to respond from a humanitarian perspective and make sure that they’re safe. And while we’re tied up and occupied doing this, what are they doing a couple miles down the road?”

Owens said the number of so-called got-aways — those who are actively trying to evade law enforcement and are not immediately apprehended for different reasons — is what concerns him most about security at the southern border, calling it “a national security threat.”

“Border security is a big piece of national security. And if we don’t know who is coming into our country and we don’t know what their intent is, that is a threat. And they’re exploiting a vulnerability that’s on our border right now,” Owens said.

Owens said that while he wishes migrants seeking entry to the U.S. at the southern border “would choose the right way to come into our country and not start off on the wrong foot,” he said he thinks most of them “absolutely are by and large good people.” He said there is still a small number of migrants with criminal backgrounds they’ve found amid larger groups. Owens also said his main concern lies with the unknown.

“Most of the folks that we’re encountering that are turning themselves in, you know, they’re coming across because they’re either fleeing terrible conditions, or they’re economic migrants looking for a better way of life. It doesn’t make them bad people, it’s just that they’re not being respectful of the laws that we’ve established as a country, and they’re actually putting people in this country in harm’s way because they’re pulling the border security apparatus off of task,” Owens said.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.