When the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced it will terminate its Title 42 order, which allows the United States to deny migrants entry based on public health concerns, did it consider the officer safety consequences for American Border Patrol (BP) agents who risk their lives securing the Southwest Border?
Apparently not. As a result of the CDC's questionable decision to end the program on May 23 that has deported illegal aliens expeditiously at the Southwest border, it is expected that up to 18,000 migrants will attempt to cross there daily. Did the CDC give thought to how physical assaults, health exposure to COVID variants and psychological trauma can jeopardize the safety of American law enforcement? Or was their focus limited to the wellness needs of illegal aliens?
For context, the CDC's published mission states in bold letters, in part, "...CDC saves lives and protects people from health threats." It also states, "...it protects our nation against expensive and dangerous health threats, and responds when these arise" (www.CDC.gov). This makes one wonder if there is small print that excludes border law enforcement from the CDC's mission protections. To be clear, I applaud the CDC's presumed compassion for providing medical care for migrants fleeing horrible circumstances from their respective countries. However, our government's non-negotiable priority is to protect its citizenry first...and BP agents and all border law enforcement officers are American citizens too.
Given that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) oversees all border operations, is it prepared to provide substantial support to Southwest Border law enforcement in order to minimize the officer safety impact from a migrant surge? Apparently not. In response to the CDC's statement of intent to terminate its Title 42 order, DHS posted a March 30 press release with the headline, "DHS Preparations for a Potential Increase in Migration." In the release, DHS lays out its "comprehensive strategy to address a potential increase in the number of border encounters."
Unfortunately, the plan does not include any meaningful measures to provide real tactical support to Border Patrol agents, officers, and sheriff's deputies. The release references four strategic points, and the first one states, "Acquiring and deploying resources to address increased volumes." Based on DHS's explanation of what this means, it seems they will be sending more vaccines and civilians than additional law enforcement assets needed to guard against an anticipated surge of 18,000 migrants daily.
Supporters of the CDC's decision will argue that Title 42 was intended as a temporary measure during the height of the pandemic to slow the COVID-19 contagion and that infected migrants need America's help. I don't dispute this. However, has the rate of COVID-19 infection suddenly dropped in the United States?
On April 26, Vice President Kamala Harris tested positive. Not long after, New York State acting Governor Kathy Hochul tested positive. In the mask-adoring states of New York and New Jersey, the reported positivity rates of infection have shot up above 9% after the CDC issued its Title 42 decision. The headline of a May 9 National Geographic article proffers this concern: "Two New Omicron Variants are Spreading. Will They Drive a New U.S. Surge?" Does this sound like the COVID-19 threat has subsided and will not pose a health threat to Border Patrol agents who encounter those who are infected? Law enforcement trainers always preach, "Watch the hands," and now Border Patrol agents are confronted with the need to "Watch the breath."
And what about the physical risks that will confront Border Patrol agents when 18,000 illegal aliens surge the Southwest Border daily? The migrants move in varying group sizes, day and night, some moving through the Rio Grande, some through mountainous areas, and others crawling through Native American sovereign land. How is the Border Patrol expected to intercept this surge safely, while dangerously outnumbered in remote areas?
Will the CDC provide sufficient medical support to reduce the risk of fatal harm to injured BP Agents? And if the Border Patrol is forced to reposition their investigators, who will be focusing on intercepting the violent human traffickers, drug traffickers, gun traffickers, and other criminals? Last year, 618 BP agents were assaulted. As of April 2022, 194 Agents have been assaulted as compared to 149 last year (cbp.gov). We do not want a statistical surge here.
Migrant advocates have asserted that the majority of those crossing the Southwest Border are nonviolent. If we entertain that assertion and project conservatively that 2% of the daily 18,000 surge are violent criminals, then that leaves Border Patrol with 360 potentially lethal threats. Now multiply that by 30 and that amounts to 10,800 monthly encounters with violent criminals. It is important to note that Border Patrol Agents have sacrificed their lives by rescuing migrants who were drowning in water crossing attempts. This poses another heightened threat to their safety. Additionally, the surge in crossings will likely cause more pursuits, especially in the evening. A high volume of low visibility, uneven terrain pursuits can yield fatal consequences for law enforcement. A tactical assessment of the increased risk to BP Agents should have been considered prior to the CDC's decision.
Beyond the prospect of physical harm, the forecast of up to 18,000 daily crossings at the Southwest Border may cause severe psychological strain for BP Agents. According to Dr. Jean Kanokogi, Ph.D, a nationally recognized police psychologist in law enforcement suicide prevention, "Our law enforcement at the border face overwhelming challenges of uncertainly each day while performing their regular duties. Compounding the already strained mental health by adding additional stressors is a recipe for promoting an overwhelming emotional stress for the men and women protecting our borders." Drawing upon Dr. Kanokogi's professional assessment, it is essential for the CDC to factor in the impact this surge will have on BP Agents' mental wellness.
Without question, CDC's Title 42 policy was not intended to be permanent. However, there seems to be a parallel with the questionable announcement and decision to withdraw American personnel from Afghanistan under precarious circumstances. When our federal government controls the play clock, it behooves them to take the necessary time to consider the ramifications of their decisions. Especially when these decisions may impact the safety of those who serve and protect the United States. Regarding CDC's termination of Title 42, the wellness of those serving at the Southwest border lies in their hands.
Jon Adler is the president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association Foundation.