EXCLUSIVE: The Biden administration is increasing the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agents who are part of the enforcement agency’s investigative arm, dispatching them to the southern border amid what officials say is an increase in migrant numbers.
An email sent to ICE agents last week and seen by Fox News Digital says there has been a rise in migrant encounters, so Homeland Security Investigations is increasing its Operation Expanded Impact (OEI) numbers from 60 to 200
Agents are being deployed to key sectors in Texas, Arizona and California.
Agents are being sent Wednesday and more will be deployed Monday. OEI was launched last year as part of a DHS effort to target transnational criminal organizations involved in smuggling and human activity.
The agency has been deploying agents to the border for months on 30-day rotations and had reduced deployments in recent months from around 250 to 60 agents. The new deployments come amid concerns and reports of a new increase in migrants. The Washington Post reported this week that initial numbers show a 30% increase at the border. A DHS spokesperson told Fox News Digital the numbers of those crossing illegally are still down compared to before Title 42’s May 11 halt.
“Unlawful border crossings have gone down since our border enforcement plan went into effect and remain well below the levels seen while Title 42 was in effect,” the spokesperson said. “We remain vigilant and expect to see fluctuations, knowing that smugglers continue to use disinformation to prey on vulnerable individuals.”
The agency noted that divisions across the department work collectively and will adjust operations based on a variety of factors. Asylum officers have also increased by 33%, and the agency is now seeking to complete the initial credible fear interview within several days of a claim made by migrants. And it will continue to evaluate operations and work with other governments to address changes in migration flows.
An HSI agent who spoke to Fox News Digital said agents deployed to the border are often sent on short notice and will sometimes just help Border Patrol with the processing of migrants coming across.
“You’re using skilled and trained special agents who are trained in criminal investigations and law enforcement tactics to guard people and to hand out food to individuals and help with processing,” the agent said.
The agent also said deployments of special agents in particular have damaged active and ongoing investigations in their offices.
“So, when you pull an agent from an active investigation, and you put them somewhere else for 30 days, that affects that agent’s ability to continue working in that case. And for HSI a lot of times, we have just one agent in that case. We don’t have multiple agents assigned to it. So, someone else can’t pick up that slack once somebody has to go down there. So, your case just gets put on standstill, put on pause, but the criminal activity doesn’t. That continues.
“So, you’re not able to continue with the activity going on in that investigation, which includes terrorism cases, human trafficking cases, violent organized crime cases and child exploitation cases.
“We’re already understaffed as an agency, and pulling us down to the border — it makes us almost a critical level of understaffed.”
Thomas Homan, a former Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) director, told Fox News Digital he hopes HSI agents will be used to conduct investigations into smuggling amid ongoing concerns that migrants are posing as family units to take advantage of family reunification programs
“If HSI are increasing agents to the border, I would hope they will concentrate on identifying dismantling any smuggling organizations and verifying that all these groups of families coming across are actually family members,” he said.
“We know that this administration lost track of over more than 85,000 children, so I hope HSI’s going down there to drill deep into these family units and these single children coming across, making sure that this isn’t trafficking. I’m hoping that’s what their concentration is.”
The HSI shift marks the latest staffing change at the border after a period in which the administration added resources to the border ahead of the end of Title 42 in May. The Pentagon sent 1,500 active duty troops ahead of a feared surge. This week, 1,100 were returned to their home bases, but 400 remained after their stay was extended.
It comes amid uncertainty over the situation at the border. Numbers surged before the end of Title 42, but overall numbers then dropped from May to 144,000 in June, while still remaining high compared to pre-2021 numbers, the administration has said
Now with numbers believed to be increasing and a key Biden asylum rule recently blocked by a federal court, it is unclear what lies in the months ahead. The Biden administration said in a recent filing it believes there are at least 100,000 waiting in Mexico to see what happens with the rule. Officials have also stressed that they are operating within what DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has called a “broken” system that can only be fixed by reform from Congress.