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Trump and Border Patrol lied about not knowing who was in the caravans.

Updated: May 18

In the last eight years, the US government has witnessed border crisis after border crisis. Each built upon the last with different responses by federal, state, local and Mexican authorities. Republicans and Democrats have just agreed to vastly increase immigration enforcement budgets as the Border Patrol has the gall to continue to claim they are overwhelmed while they are averaging a whopping six to seven apprehensions per agent per month. 

Context is needed.

According to CBP (Customs and Border Protection), Border Patrol agents averaged 264 apprehensions per year per agent in 1996. In 2000, they averaged 185 per agent per year. In 2018, there were 21 apprehensions per agent per year. In 2019, it increased to 43 apprehensions per agent per year. Today, a Border Patrol agent averages less that 10 apprehensions per month. That is ridiculously low. While today’s agents are required to process more asylum cases than we did in the 1990s, it's important to remember that we did not have computers in many stations back then, and we did not have National Guard, local and state police assistance. Private transport and processing officers did not exist either, and the Border Patrol has more than tripled its agents.   

This begs the question, how did the Border Patrol and the Trump administration manage to pass some of the most brutal policies when crossings were so low? 

In October 2018, Trump tweeted about caravans for the first time. He claimed that “terrorists” and “MS-13 gang members” were hiding within the caravans. This was the same day Border Patrol’s union leaders began their caravan media campaign. Agents appeared on right-wing media outlets multiple times a day calling caravans an “invasion” and “mobile mobs” while also insisting that Border Patrol did not have access to members’ foreign criminal records. 

In January 2019, as Del Rio Sector Border Patrol prepared for a new caravan, Trump and his administration insisted there were “Middle Eastern” terrorists within the group. Vice-President Mike Pence and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed as many as 4,000 terrorists had been captured at our borders or prevented from entering. Although the US State Department announced shortly thereafter that none of this was true, this did not stop them from repeating the claims. 


This new caravan was estimated at 1,600 asylum seekers. CBP Del Rio Port Commissioner Paul del Rincon and Border Patrol Chief Matthew Hudak held press conferences announcing their response. CBP stated they had only become aware of the caravan the week before on January 31, 2019. Mexican president Lopez Amador ordered his immigration officials to set up a shelter in an abandoned warehouse in Piedras Negras to hold the migrants. Local reports documented migrants trying to leave and being forced back violently by Mexican National Guard in riot gear. Local officials then bused many to other areas against their will. As with the other caravans, some were able to claim asylum, some went to other areas and some went home. 

In November 2019, as Trump was facing the upcoming election, he gave the Border Patrol union a generous contract. More agents were taken from the border and placed in full-time union positions to engage with the media. The collective 18,000 hours per year union stewards could work on media and union issues was increased to 153,920 hours per year. This enabled union leaders to spend most of their time driving right-wing media around to where the groups of migrants were located for more footage and optics. This kept Fox News and News Nation and others constantly talking about immigration whether the numbers were high or not. 

Recently, lawyer and writer Andrew Free of Detention Kills made public some CBP documents through the Freedom of Information Act that shines a light on information the Trump administration, CBP, and Border Patrol were keeping from the press and public. Border Patrol and CBP worked directly with Mexican officials regarding caravans. Not only did the agencies and the administration know that the majority of members were asylum seekers, they knew their sex, medical status, nationalities and even if they had criminal records in other countries. Officials also knew that there were no terrorists in the caravans because they had direct communication with Mexican officials through their registration programs. This data was shared with CBP and Border Patrol daily. 

CBP/Border Patrol Intelligence documents obtained by Andrew Free via FOIA showing Trump and Border Patrol union lied to the public about caravans.

Seeing these documents made me recall comments made by officials in 2021 claiming that Border Patrol was caught completely unaware when over ten thousand Haitian asylum seekers headed to Del Rio appear to be untrue. The FOIA documents prove Del Rio Border Patrol had a “Mass Migration Plan” as far back as January of 2019. These plans included combining federal and state military and agencies as well as Mexican officials and agencies. It would seem that if the agencies did deploy the plan, the plan did not include how to shelter, feed, provide water, nor medical assistance for over 10,000 people baking in the hot Texas sun.

The escalation and designation of caravans as dangerous by CBP, and Border Patrol is clearly demonstrated in an email from CBP Intelligence dated January 25, 2019, “RE: (U//F0UO) Central American Caravans and Regular Migrant Flow Status-Update 20.” In the first sentence, “C1” (Commissioner of CBP Mark Morgan) orders the intelligence officers to no longer refer to this daily report as “Central American Caravans and Regular Migrant Flow Status.” The new title reflected the level of danger the administration wanted Americans to feel, “Warning Problem: Central American Caravans and Migration Crisis Flow.” 

CBP Commissioner demanded the report entitled "Regular Migrant Flow" be changed to "Migration Crisis Flow."

Most recently, migrants on US soil in El Paso, Texas were prevented from reaching the US Border Patrol for processing by Texas National Guard soldiers who shot migrants with rubber bullets as they stood on US soil. Asylum seekers pushed and ran past the soldiers. It’s not been made clear why these soldiers prevented the migrants from reaching the processing agents, though it appears that this was once again performative violence for right-wing media as they were eventually allowed to go to the next fence barrier within view and request asylum from Border Patrol agents. Texas officials tried to get the courts to file rioting charges on the asylum seekers, but many of the cases were thrown out of court for lacking probable cause for the arrest and because the court stated it lacked jurisdiction. Texas officials have vowed to appeal.

Legally, if the state of Texas can prevent the federal government from exercising its authority and enforcing the rule of law, what prevents any state or any actor from doing the same? What would stop a state from hiring a mercenary group to prevent the federal government from enforcing civil rights? More importantly, when will media stop repeating the lies of the Border Patrol and politicians when there is no evidence to support their statements?

These crises, the lies told to the American public, and the unnecessary performative violence used by the immigration enforcement agencies are used to obtain more funding even when the statistics do not justify it. The state of Texas uses the crises to raid taxpayer funds and take power from the federal government. The media campaigns showing the same footage of violence from a small number of sources causes people to believe the border is being overwhelmed when the numbers simply do not exist especially when compared to the budgets and numbers of agents employed today. This is why Trump had to create a plan to have Border Patrol Union escort them to where the migrants actually were located. This is why they lied and told Americans they could not possibly know who was in the caravans.

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