SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Recent rulings from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals are a major contributing factor in the sharp rise in the number of family units and unaccompanied minors that have made the trek from Central America to the United States' southwest border in the last few months, according to Acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Thomas Homan.
"I think the uptick right now is on the family units, especially the family units and the UACs. And that uptick is because of the loopholes in the system and some of the decisions by the 9th Circuit," Homan told the Washington Examiner at the Border Security Expo in San Antonio, Texas, Wednesday.
"When you get a recent court decision saying you can only detain a family for so many days, when there’s constant repeals and temporary restraining orders, people seeing the administration getting their hands tied, they see it as an opportunity," he added. "I think that’s more of a driving factor in the recent populations."
Last July, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 1997 lawsuit settlement that guaranteed court hearings for unaccompanied minors and created a policy that favored their release.
Homan, who has worked in law enforcement for more than three decades, said he has found that any time amnesty is being discussed in the U.S., border agents can expect to see an increase in the number of migrants being apprehended near the southwest border.
However, family units and unaccompanied minors are treated differently than illegal immigrant adults who are caught at the border. Children and families from noncontiguous countries are detained and sent through immigration proceedings so a judge can determine if they are refugees. That policy is part of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.
Homan said people in Central America have learned about this exception and are more inclined to take the risk and travel to the U.S. and surrender to law enforcement, especially when they hear of talk about a possible amnesty for others who have done similar things in the past.
"There’s anecdotal information that whenever you talk about amnesty, or give them some sort of benefit, that does drive immigration, illegal immigration. It’s anecdotal. I haven’t seen any data to support that, but I know based on my 34 years of experience, every time we talk about something like that, people are going to try to get in, game the system. I don’t think there’s a surge, but I think you’ll see an uptick based on what I’ve seen in the past," he added.
In October, the first month of Fiscal Year 2018, Customs and Border Protection reported a 45 percent increase in the number of family units apprehended at the border.
Homan insisted other lures, like sanctuary cities, need to be reversed if border apprehension numbers are to continue to decrease overall.
"All this adds to it. The more they hear about sanctuary cities, the more they’re saying, ‘Look, if we get into the country illegally, get by the Border Patrol, or even get caught by the Border Patrol,'" he said. "When you’re going to your proceedings, you get released from your detention, the thought of getting to a sanctuary city, like get to San Francisco, you can even get arrested for committing a crime and they’re not going to work with ICE and they’re going to help shield you from federal law enforcement. That’s a huge selling factor for someone who wants to come to this country illegally."
Homan was in high demand by the press at Wednesday's event after delivering a fiery speech defending ICE officers whose jobs it is to track down and deport illegal immigrants earlier in the day.
Surrounded by 400 Homeland Security, CBP, ICE, and other law enforcement officials, as well as private sector groups, Homan blasted Congress for its decadeslong failure to fix the root causes of illegal immigration and warned against giving Democrats an extension of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program without real border security measures.