Whether it’s a family or a single male, the drug cartels play a role in every illegal crossing into the U.S. at the southern border, former Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott says.
“They’re either directly paying the cartels or the cartels are controlling their movements for another benefit, meaning to systematically overwhelm Border Patrol, create a gap in the border security, and then bring the narcotics across,” Scott says.
Scott, who worked in U.S. Customs and Border Protection for three decades, served as the 24th chief of the Border Patrol from Jan. 24, 2020, until Aug. 14, 2021. Through his decades of work on the border, Scott says, he observed that “every single day, almost without exception until January of 2021 [when President Joe Biden took office], the border was getting more and more secure.”
The cartels are taking advantage of the Biden administration’s border policies, Scott says, explaining that because most illegal aliens coming across the border are released into the U.S. interior, the cartels “push [asylum-seekers] all across at the same time.”
The result, he says, is that “it overwhelms all the law enforcement resources so that [the cartels] can push a second wave through, commonly referred to nowadays as ‘gotaways.’”
The gotaways tend to be individuals who are “willing to pay more to not encounter a law enforcement officer,” Scott says, adding, “That’s where most of the narcotics [are]. That’s where most of the criminal aliens are.”
Scott joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss the long-term implications of Biden’s border policies and why Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is allowing the crisis to continue at the southern border.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:
Virginia Allen: We are continuing to see a record number of illegal migrants crossing our border. And here with us to talk about not only the current crisis, but also the long-term implications is the former Border Patrol chief and the current distinguished senior fellow for border security at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Rodney Scott. Mr. Scott, thank you so much for being here.
Rodney Scott: Thank you for having me today. I look forward to the conversation.
Allen: Now, you served in Border Patrol for three decades and you were the 24th chief of the United States Border Patrol. Explain what exactly a normal day is in the life of a Border Patrol agent. Help us understand what exactly the job entails.
Scott: That could take hours. And the reason I say that is you see a lot on TV, but it’s the United States Border Patrol, not just the southwest border. So it can change minute by minute, day by day. It’s very unpredictable. And that’s what I loved about the job and that’s what is a driving force for a lot of people to apply.
But day in and day out, the average Border Patrol agent, you come into a station, you get your equipment and a vehicle, but you’re given an assignment for the day just like any other police department would do traditionally. However, when you leave the station, unlike most law enforcement, you’re going to be on your own for the rest of the shift. You may or may not have a partner.
You’re going out—you could be in San Diego where you have backup pretty close, but most, if you did average, they’re going out to patrol wide-open sections of border on their own. When something happens, they might call a partner, but it may take 30, 40 minutes for that guy to get there.
So it’s a really cool job normally in that you’re out there protecting the country. Your job is more simple than anybody in the big Washington, D.C., tries to make it. It’s simply to make sure people use our front door. So once you’re out in the field, there’s really no immigration debate. There’s no debate about fentanyl or whatever else. Your job is literally just to make sure that no one sneaks into our home without going through the front door, which is the ports of entry.
So all the politics go out the window, but … it’s a little challenging because when you’re encountering somebody, especially in the middle of the night, the agents don’t know if it’s drug smugglers or if it’s economic migrants that are being used as cover for drug smugglers, or it’s just people trying to sneak into the U.S. So you have to approach it very cautiously every single time. But they have to flip that switch really quick when all of a sudden it’s a family group versus people with backpacks full of heroin or fentanyl or something else.
But again, that adrenaline, that unknown is really what attracts a lot of people to the job.
Allen: And I know you’ve experienced so much in your time in Border Patrol and you had the opportunity to serve under several presidents, under both Democrats and Republicans. What are some of the differences that you would say are critical and key between what we’ve seen under the Biden administration versus what we saw under Trump or Bush or even Obama?
Scott: Sure. So, before I step into that for all the listeners, I want to make sure they fully understand. I was an almost 30-year Border Patrol agent. Even as the chief of the Border Patrol, you’re what we call a career government official. It means you’re not politically appointed. There’s not supposed to be politics involved. You rise through the ranks and basically, you earn this job. And it’s all about the mission. It’s not about the Right, Left, Republican, Democrat, nothing.
But with that said, night and day. This administration’s approach to the border, I won’t say border security because they don’t have any, was night and day from my entire career, not just the Trump administration.
I got in 1992. Some of your older listeners and viewers, you could research this. It wasn’t until about 1994 that the country really said, “Holy cow, we’re losing complete control of our border.” Bill Clinton, Janet Reno, they’re down on the border, they’re looking left, and we started having a strategy to systematically reestablish or gain control of the border. Tons of video out there people seemed to forget about.
But again, under the Clinton administration, I was a pretty young agent, but I stood beside Janet Reno in San Diego, explained what we were dealing with every day, and we started controlling our border. We literally started building barriers. We started coming up with better strategies that were personnel, technology, and infrastructure. We didn’t use those terms back then, but that’s what we were doing.
But from my entire career, every single day, almost without exception, until January of 2021, the border was getting more and more secure over every single one of those presidential administrations.
And it really was because of this—one, it wasn’t just the resources. … While I was in the Border Patrol, we grew from just over 4,000 to 21,370 before Congress defunded them down to a little bit below 20,000. But we were ruling out also policies, and we were making sure there was a consequence for an illegal activity. Because you can throw all the infrastructure you want on the border, but if there’s no consequence for the illegal entry, then they’re just going to keep coming.
The Biden administration reversed not just the Trump administration. That’s the talking point of the day, but they reversed every one of those administrations’ efforts to secure the border, reinstated catch and release. So basically, most of the illegal aliens today that cross the border, the Border Patrol even encounters, are being released into the U.S. So that creates this draw.
But more importantly people need to understand that cartel is now using that every single day. Basically, they look what’s north, how many Border Patrol agents and law enforcement agents are on the north side of the border. They hold back however many illegal aliens that … some people would call them asylum-seekers. And in this case, most of those are people that are willing to surrender to Border Patrol agents. And they push them all across at the same time.
What that does is it overwhelms all the law enforcement resources so that they can push a second wave through, commonly referred to nowadays as “gotaways.” And those are the individuals that are willing to pay more to not encounter a law enforcement officer. That’s where most of the narcotics is. That’s where most of the criminal aliens are.
And this administration literally stopped border wall construction. They stopped the due process that we’d created with the Migrant Protection Protocols. They stopped the Safe Third Country agreements that we were establishing with other countries to make sure asylum-seekers could get safety, but they couldn’t nation shop. And they created literally this catch-and-release process that is now a complete disaster on our southwest border.
So it’s really a complete reversal of, not just the Trump administration, but three decades of my border security of Republicans or Democrats. They reversed all of that.
Allen: So when we look at the differences, what now, compared to what your life was like as a Border Patrol agent, in contrast, what are Border Patrol agents having to deal with today that they really weren’t having to deal with or maybe weren’t having to deal with to the degree 10 or 15 years ago or even five years ago?
Scott: Or two and a half.
Allen: Or two and a half years ago?
Scott: So, as we started off, when I explained to them what the average day of a Border Patrol agent is, that was my experience. We still had processing. We still had transportation duties where you were doing “not enforcement,” care and feeding, but it was a very, very small percentage. Maybe out of a five-day workweek, you might get assigned to that once.
It really has shifted now. So there are a few Border Patrol agents out there still at the beginning of the shift that are doing what I just told you. But unfortunately, right now, and I think earlier this week in testimony, one of the chiefs testified, Tucson sector, the largest sector out there, at the beginning of the shift, before anybody new is arrested that day, over 20% of the agents never leave the station. They’re assigned right out the gate to what we’d call administrative nonenforcement—duties, caring, feeding, taking aliens to the hospital, processing.
But what he left out of that is the fact that within an hour or two of the shift, because the cartel is holding these groups and strategically pushing large groups across or multiple small groups, most of the agents out in the field, in many, many cases, 100% of the agents out in the field are then tied up with a group of illegal aliens, and then they have to either transport them back—and I think it would help to give a little bit of a visual here.
Think of a group of about 150, 200 people at a time, and you’re in pretty far, say, 30-minute drive from where they need to go. … This is usually remote, but think of whatever, it’s almost irrelevant, in a 12-passenger van. So this isn’t like they pick them up and move them all at one time. It can take hours to get a single group of 100 out of the desert back to a facility to process them because you only have these 12-passenger vans or a Tahoe you can only put so many people in.
Allen: So they’re just having to run back and forth and back and forth.
Scott: Correct. So then, really, they’re all taken out of enforcement. So even though the testimony was 20% are not doing patrol enforcement duties, that’s at the beginning of the shift. It’s a little misleading. By an hour or two in, because of the way the cartel scripts this, every agent is stuck doing processing or transporting.
So they’re not doing those patrol functions that I talked to you about before, which is what we pay them and expect them to do. So we’re leaving hundreds and hundreds of miles of border open every single day.
Allen: When these migrants are picked up by Border Patrol, where is Border Patrol taking them? What are some of the destinations and where is Border Patrol having to bus them back and forth to?
Scott: Sure. So, it varies dramatically. And for some of your listeners, I want to clarify the term migrant. So, from a legal standpoint, I even use the term migrant a lot, anybody that’s, like, moving from point A to point B, like, migrating, if you will, up to our southern border, I even call that a migrant. But the second you cross the border into the United States, by law, under the [Immigration and Nationality Act], that is an illegal alien. Because whether you’re claiming asylum or not, you’re not supposed to cross in between the ports of entry, it’s a violation of 8 U.S.C. 1325.
Anyway. So Border Patrol, once they encounter an illegal alien or even a U.S. citizen that’s smuggling across a border, because that does happen—in my last years of Border Patrol there’s, like, 1,500 arrests of U.S. citizens smuggling narcotics or aliens across border. They have to be taken back, for the most part, to a centralized processing facility. The only exception to that is under Title 42, we are trying to keep people out of stations because of COVID and everything else. So we do have some remote processing capabilities, but it’s pretty limited out in the field.
In San Diego, there’s 60 miles of border, that could be a 5- to 10-mile drive, but usually it’s pretty rugged mountains, still not super fast. But in Arizona and even some parts of South Texas, that could be an hour or a two-hour drive from remote sections of the desert.
And again, the cartel usually kind of times this out, maps it out. That’s why you see “asylum-seekers” crossing through these very remote areas in the middle of nowhere. You’re like, “If you’re going to surrender, why would you go way out there to do it?” So that they can drag out Border Patrol’s logistics and make them spend as much time as possible on these migrants that are willing to surrender, the illegal aliens—
Allen: So the cartels are orchestrating all of this.
Scott: There’s nothing that crosses the southwest border without working with the cartels. They’re either directly paying the cartels or the cartels are controlling their movements for another benefit, meaning to systematically overwhelm Border Patrol, create a gap in the border security, and then bring the narcotics across.
Allen: That just seems shocking to me. Everyone, you can say with confidence that every single person that illegally is crossing the border, they’ve had some sort of contact with cartels?
Scott: Yeah. There’s a lot of studies to back that up. Get out of immigration for a minute, go to [the Drug Enforcement Administration], go to [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], the HSI, the Homeland Security Investigations aspects of it, or go to anybody in Border Patrol.
That hasn’t always been that way, by the way. Early in my career, what people kind of visualize sometimes did happen. We used to have groups of people, economic migrants, that wanted to come into the United States illegally. They’d line up on the border. They may or may not have a guide that they would pay, and then sometimes they would just rush across and you’d catch who you can and sometimes you sneak across.
But over the last several decades, the control of the cartels in Mexico, it’s off the charts. And I do agree, by the way, that we need some new laws, we need to attack this differently because they’re a bigger threat to the security of this country than most people understand.
They control the border today. And they control the border today under the Biden administration because of this mass migration to a level that they’ve never had. And I mean, they don’t almost worry, they don’t worry hardly at all about what they’re trying to get in because their success rate is so high.
The hearings earlier this week talked about narcotics. “Most of the fentanyl comes through the ports of entry.” No, most of the fentanyl is caught right now at a port of entry because there’s a law enforcement officer with detection equipment standing there every day waiting to greet you, talk to you, and inspect your car, your luggage, whatever.
When the cartel can systematically remove all law enforcement from a huge section of border for hours and hours of time over and over and over again, how much is coming through there? Because last I checked, we don’t have a shortage of fentanyl in Chicago, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, wherever, that stuff’s crossing the southwest border.
Allen: So I think the big question is why isn’t the Biden administration stopping this and how did they let it get this bad? I mean, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, he’s not dumb. He’s a smart, intelligent individual. Why isn’t he taking strategic action to stop this?
Scott: So, now, that’s the politics. I’ve always tried to avoid explaining why someone else is doing something, but at a certain point in time you just have to look at all the evidence in front of you. So this is what I do know, and I’ll touch the why maybe, but probably skirt it for the most part. But this is what I do know.
Everything you just said about Alejandro Mayorkas is factual. He was part of [the Department of Homeland Security] under prior administrations where deterrents was working, where we were systematically improving the security of the border. I’ve interacted with him. He’s a very smart individual. Every decision he makes is deliberate.
But if you back up, what shocks me more is why are we surprised at any of this? [Joe] Biden campaigned on this. Everybody stood up during the campaigns and said, “Illegal aliens should have access to health care. We should be more welcoming.” People on the south side of the border were literally wearing Biden T-shirts before the election.
This administration, literally, if you back up and look at it, they said from Day One, “We have a plan. We’re going to act on that plan. Our plan will be successful.” Even I as the chief didn’t realize that plan was really to open the border. All these decisions are deliberate, and there’s a lot of evidence that’ll back that.
Why? I don’t know why. This is damaging our country. And I’m not talking about just the immigration aspect, I mean the amount of fentanyl, narcotics, the lack of ability to control who and what enters our country or even know, I don’t understand.
[Former acting ICE Director] Tom Homan said this the other day, I’ve got to give him credit, and it made sense. He’s like, “Tell me what’s bad about border security? What is the downside of having good border security?” But this administration is 100% set, they’ve doubled down on this strategy of catch and release. Let as many people come in as possible. They’re even trying to create new ways to get around the refugee program to let more people come through this illegal parole process.
Why? I don’t know. To be completely honest, the only thing I can figure out is they also fought having the census differentiate between U.S. citizens and illegal aliens, and it comes down to congressional seats. The more people in the district, the more people in a state, the more congressional seats they get. I can’t think of any other real reason, that and voting.
Allen: So when we think then about the long-term consequences and effects, obviously, we’re seeing the immediate effect of fentanyl overdoses and communities being really overwhelmed by just the sheer number of these illegal aliens. But let’s fast forward five, 10, 15 years down the road to maybe just a suburban community in America. How could a community like that be affected by illegal immigration?
Scott: Again, it’s beyond the illegal immigration. Let me remind everybody of this as well. Nothing stays at the border. Nobody crossing that border, to include the cartel, to include the person backpacking fentanyl, … their destination is not El Paso, Texas. It’s not even really San Diego. It’s your town. Whoever’s listening to this, the destination is your city and your town. It’s coming there.
So what is that? What is it? Again, we have a short memory, but DHS was created after 9/11 because 19 people, there were 20, but one of them got caught by Customs and Border Protection in Florida and got kicked out. Nineteen people caused 9/11—I mean, there’s more behind the scenes, but were directly involved.
By the way, let me back up. So we create CBP. They all came through a port of entry, they all came legally. So we worked hard to tighten down the ports of entry to make sure that that couldn’t happen again to the maximum extent. Shared information with different countries around the world, have biometrics at ports of entry so that they probably couldn’t exploit that as easily again. Knowing full well that they’re not going to just go home, they’re going to try something else.
So what is that? That means that you can’t get into this country through the front door, you’re going to try to get through it in between the front doors, in between. So we’ve been locking that down for years.
But if you go back before the Biden administration, the most individuals in one year that the United States Border Patrol ever encountered that were on the national terrorist watchlist crossing that southwest border were six. And literally that was just like a year before, on average it was like three. Last year they were 98 and were already documented, I think it’s a little higher, but official CBP numbers are already up to 38 this fiscal year.
So what’s the long-term effect? How many more were in the gotaways? How many criminals? We document gangs all the time that’ve been here before. By the way, the only way we really know is they’ve been here before, we’ve already documented, they got deported, came back, or a small database down in El Salvador and Honduras on gang members. They’re in your community. So unfortunately, we’re not really going to know until another person gets killed, until a bomb goes off.
But this isn’t just about illegal immigration. This isn’t about how cheap can I get lettuce that the Left would make it, or getting your lawn mowed, or whatever else. This is integrating every part of our community. And it’s not just the fentanyl. Fentanyl’s a product. It lays there. There’s other ways we can attack that.
But these are people, and a lot of them want to do harm to either individuals, and that’s what I classify as criminals, or their country as a whole. And we haven’t even talked about nation-state actors. If you don’t think other countries, adversaries aren’t exploiting this open border and getting their assets into the country and just telling them, “Sit tight until we give you orders,” or, “Start collecting information that we can use against America long term,” you’re naive.
This is not about illegal immigration. This is about national security, simply knowing who and what comes into our home. And we’ve given that up.
Allen: Well, one of the things I’ve been seeing is we have seen an uptick in Chinese nationals apprehended at the southern border. Correct?
Scott: Correct. And we’ve seen an uptick just—I could have answered yes in the affirmative to 80 nationalities if you wanted right now. CBP just reported out at another event I was at, the National Sheriffs’ Association, over 171 different nationalities were in the illegal aliens that crossed this last year they encountered.
So there’s been an increase in everything. Russians, Ukrainians, Syrians. CBP lists some of these, by the way, on cbp.gov. There’s a stat sheet on there, a lot of people don’t know about. Well, that’s one thing I’m really proud of as chief, and [former acting CBP Commissioner Mark] Morgan really did this. We’ve increased transparency to a level that we had never seen before.
If you go to stats, there’s interactive charts that you can select. We didn’t get it done as much as we wanted to, but there’s more there than anywhere else. I encourage your listeners to go on there and start looking at the nationalities, where we’re catching people from.
Allen: And what is public? Because if you go on the CBP website, they’ll tell you specifically for Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras how many encounters there have been in any particular month. And then, there’s just this other category.
Scott: Correct. But they just expanded the other category. And it’s still not what it should be, but this was something we were working on when I was still chief, and it looks like it finally took effect a couple months ago. That other category is a little bit smaller now. And there’s a list of about 15 or 20 different nationalities on that same exact chart. It was exactly what you said. And the vast majority were in other.
If you go 171, the vast majority are still in the other, but it does list Russia, China, Syria. It lists a lot of the countries that I’ve been pushing hard. I honestly think it should be every single nation. I don’t know why it’s not. I’m actually pushing Congress to legislate a mandate that ICE and CBP publish that publicly. But we’ll see how that goes.
Allen: Keep pushing for that. A step in the right direction with transparency. We need that.
Scott: How is that bad anyway, too?
Allen: Exactly. Shouldn’t the public know?
Scott: This administration is so opaque. They claim they’re transparent, but … why aren’t the chiefs allowed to speak? Why were so many chiefs prohibited from going to Congress? Only two were allowed to speak. Transparency is what America deserves.
Allen: Now, with those sheer numbers crossing, what’s the impact on private entities in America, whether it be hospitals or businesses? How is it felt in the private sector?
Scott: I think it’s felt a lot more than people would think. And I’ll just give you a couple of examples. And I encourage your viewers, though, to open their eyes, because if you’re not looking for this, you literally won’t see it. Maybe the first one’s not a good example, but you’ll see this one.
Try going to an emergency room or an urgent care within 50 miles of the southwest border right now. You’re going to be waiting hours and hours. On average, and this is just an average, on average, the United States Border Patrol is making 24 trips a day to local medical facilities. They have some medical. They have some doctors. They have some medical capability within CBP. They’re trying to build that out. But anything serious, they have to take them to whatever the local hospital is, where your kids go, where you go, and it’s backing that whole system up.
Because the southwest border, a lot of these are little small towns and they don’t have a robust medical infrastructure. So it’s taken away. And by the way, if they’re in custody, it gets reimbursed. But any migrant, any illegal alien crossing the border that gets hurt and ends up in a hospital that didn’t go through Customs and Border Protection, you’re paying for that.
Allen: That cost falls on the hospital?
Scott: That falls on the hospital or some local social service or something. Unless they’re actually in government custody, the government does not pay that bill back.
How else does that affect you? Well, what does that relate to? That 24 trips a day is over 73,000 man-hours that’s taken away from border enforcement because somebody has to take them to the hospital. That’s a Border Patrol agent.
Allen: So what are the solutions here? Just briefly, what can be done to rein in this situation and actually get it under control?
Scott: So, it’s not that complicated. In application, it gets a little difficult, but the concept is not that complicated. There has to be a consequence for a crime. And again, let’s get out of border security for a minute. If you have children, think about it. If you reward a behavior, you’re going to get that behavior over and over again. It’s simple.
When you let people into the country, regardless of how they entered, and let them hang out for six to eight years before they get their final order that you know they’re not going to follow of removal because they didn’t meet the criteria, it doesn’t end.
There are some things Congress needs to do, but we proved through the last three decades, multiple administrations, to a level never seen before under the Trump administration, we can secure the border. What did that mean? That meant we put due process back in the right order.
All these people that want to claim asylum, they have a right to claim asylum. OK, that’s fine, but you don’t have a right to be released into the United States, to be free for several years until your case is heard. So we came up with Migrant Protection Protocols. Why did we do that? Because Congress refused to fund detention.
So there’s two ways to have due process before you release people, before they get their prize. You just prevent them from coming in or you detain them. By law, they’re supposed to be detained or removed. This administration has chosen to release them. You change that, 90% of the fraudulent claims go away overnight because that’s all they want, is [to be] released into the U.S. Migrant Protection Protocols or detention or something similar to that would do it, and then continue to build out the border wall.
What did the border wall really do and who came up with it? That was designed over three decades by Border Patrol agents. The Trump administration came in and said, “What do you guys need? How do we secure the border?” And then he listened to the border security experts. Some of those border security experts got ran out, but there’s still quite a few there. Just listen to them.
The other thing that people don’t know about the Biden administration is we had integrated work groups beyond Border Patrol at DHS of career government officials giving good advice. They shut all those down. They sent all those guys back home. And now political appointees that have never ever done anything in border security are the ones making the policy. Flip that dynamic back, bring those work groups back together, listen to the government officials of how we can secure the border. And that would help.
But anyway, sorry. The border wall … buys time in the simplest context. It lets every single agent out in the border, out patrolling, cover a larger area by themselves. So it’s a force multiplier, if you will. It’s kind of a military term, but it also takes away the ability of the cartel to quickly push a huge group to your left and then push a big group of criminals or narcotics to your right because you have that barrier.
And there was supposed to be a sensor with that barrier. Biden shut all that off. So unfortunately, you don’t want to have that sensor system, but at least you still have a barrier. Finish building out the true border wall system that included that sensor system, the technology, and the physical infrastructure to slow them down. And that’s about 80% of your problem right there. And then you can focus on the real criminals, the cartels, and start systematically dismantling those and basically reestablishing the border, period, and then ultimately security on that border.
Allen: Mr. Rodney Scott, thank you. We really appreciate your time.
Scott: Sorry I talk a lot.
Allen: No, this is so insightful. Thank you so much.
Scott: I appreciate you helping keep the truth out there and all that you guys do for America. So thank you.
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