Homeland Security unveiled a new Spanish-language ad campaign Wednesday aimed at would-be migrants, urging them not to put their lives into the hands of smugglers who are convincing them to make the journey.
The ads will be delivered on digital platforms, trying to combat the dominant social media message right now that it is relatively easy to get into the U.S. That message is shared by the smuggling organizations, but also by the hundreds of thousands of migrants who have succeeded on the journey — some of them caught then released by the U.S. government, and others who escaped detection altogether.
“The coyote lied to us,” one of the messages says, using the slang term for smugglers. “Entering the USA illegally is a crime. Say no to the coyote.”
Other messages show distraught people over captions stating their relatives died during the journey, and warning, “Don’t let it destroy your family.”
The ads are aimed at residents in Guatemala and Honduras.
But just 17% of the migrants who jumped the southern border in March were from those countries, which could limit the ad campaign’s effectiveness.
“Smugglers use lies to lure the vulnerable into a dangerous journey that often ends in removal or death,” said Chris Magnus, commissioner of Customs and Border Protection. “This digital ad campaign is an important component of U.S. government efforts to prevent tragedies and curtail irregular migration.”
The difficulty is that the smugglers’ message often is not a lie.
According to the latest public numbers, from March, of 221,000 migrants caught at the border, about half were quickly turned back under the Title 42 pandemic border shutdown policy. About 12,000 others were returned under immigration laws.
The remaining 100,000 or so were either caught and released at the border, or turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for processing. ICE released most of those transfers, too.
Given the recidivism rate of those subjected to Title 42 and the rate of “gotaways” — those who avoid detection altogether — the success rate for immigrants in the U.S. illegally who managed to gain a foothold is better than 50%.
In the later Trump years, it was a small fraction of that.
The higher success rate explains why the Biden administration is already facing what it admits is an “unprecedented” surge at the border.
And when Title 42 goes away on May 23, under the administration’s plans, those numbers will get worse. Homeland Security is preparing for as many as 18,000 border crossers a day, which would obliterate all previous records.
Mr. Magnus, in testimony to Congress on Wednesday, told lawmakers he believes his agency is ready to welcome those who are coming.
“We’re in a good position to provide not only efficient and effective engagement with migrants, but also humane treatment of those migrants,” he said. He ticked off services such as medical care and transportation to help move migrants around within the U.S.
That includes a welcoming environment for transgender people caught crossing the border illegally, whom he said need special space and care to be able to tell their stories.
He said the government needs to give them options, including being able to be detained by themselves so they don’t face dangers from other migrants.
“That’s something we can arrange for. But the goal is to keep them as safe as possible,” Mr. Magnus said.
He said they are following through on Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’ six-point plan to deal with the surge.
Rep. John Rutherford, Florida Republican, said the plan didn’t say much about trying to deter the surge, but rather is focused on accommodating the migrants.
“Everything in that is about enhanced processing. We’re not trying to stop illegals, we’re trying to process them more quickly,” he said.
Republicans are gearing up with their own answers.
A group of former senior Homeland Security officials from the Trump administration issued a set of recommendations Wednesday for what the GOP should do if it takes control of Congress in November’s elections.
Among the steps are creating a new power, similar to Title 42, to allow quick expulsion of migrants caught crossing the border illegally; tightening the asylum system, which is what most migrants are abusing to earn a quick release when caught at the border; and curtailing issuance of work permits to immigrants without documentation. Those work permits serve as an incentive for people to come, analysts say.
“It is not enough for the next Congress to simply restart construction of the border wall system or adjust resources at Customs and Border Protection,” the officials said in their letter, joined by a large coalition of conservative groups. “While those are important measures required to secure the borders, without closing the loopholes and other changes, the Biden administration’s policies will continue to act as a powerful magnet, attracting millions of illegal aliens into our country.”
Homeland Security’s new digital ad buy doesn’t address those “loopholes,” other than to suggest that they don’t work for everyone.
The campaign began this week and is slated to run for two months — just as the administration expects the start of the new post-Title 42 surge.
Combating smugglers is one of the top tasks for Homeland Security’s new “Disinformation Governance Board,” which Mr. Mayorkas announced two weeks ago. That board has been mocked by Republicans as a misguided attempt to stifle Americans’ free speech.
• Stephen Dinan can be reached at email@example.com.
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