Since its creation in response to the 9/11 terrorism attacks, the budget for Customs and Border Patrol has always been heavily geared toward securing the border. A companion mission, providing shelter and care for influxes of migrants at the Mexico border, receives a minuscule amount of the budget but consumes a growing share of the agency's attention, the New York Times reports. This combination of enforcement and humanitarian tasks has long created tension within CBP, a division of the Homeland Security Department, as the largest law enforcement agency in the country finds itself preoccupied with duties far afield from its original mission. Without the political will to reorganize CBP to support its humanitarian mission, the agency will likely continue to rely on temporary solutions, as it has for the past decade.
When C.B.P. first saw this migration trend in 2014, some officials believed that other federal agencies, like the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Health and Human Services, would be better suited to lead the response. Gil Kerlikowske, the C.B.P. commissioner during the Obama administration, said that idea was not welcome when he brought the issue to senior officials. “This is the border, and this is your problem,” he said he was told. In that sense, not much has changed. Successive administrations have focused on ways to decrease the number of illegal crossings and avoid a humanitarian crisis on the U.S. side of the border. C.B.P. has hired hundreds of people to process migrants and perform administrative work, relieving Border Patrol agents who had been temporarily reassigned to these roles. And President Biden requested a $4.7 billion emergency reserve for the 2024 fiscal year to make it easier to access funds in a crisis. The flaws in this ad hoc response were evident in El Paso ahead of the expiration of a pandemic-era health measure known as Title 42 in early May. The Biden administration had spent nearly two years planning for the policy’s expiration, which they expected would bring its biggest influx of migrants yet. Officials predicted that El Paso would be one of the most popular crossing points. Yet hundreds of migrants, many of whom made long and dangerous journeys to get to the United States, waited behind a border gate, where they were largely shielded from public view. The border facilities were full.