TUCSON – Despite President Donald Trump’s order to turn away non-essential border crossers, customs agents at ports of entry on the southern border are allowing Mexican nationals to cross, even for routine shopping visits.
Art Del Cueto, vice-president of the National Border Patrol Council, said he has been receiving phone calls from the agents working at the ports of entry, where vehicular and pedestrian traffic comes through from Mexico.
“It has been business as usual at the ports of entry,” Del Cueto said in a phone interview, adding that Mexican citizens are crossing into the United States as if there has been no order from the president.
“People are coming across and then they can go anywhere they want,” Del Cueto said.
Although the president has done everything in his power to restrict the movement of non-essential traffic coming across the border, Del Cueto said officials of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which regulates the ports of entry, are not enforcing his orders.
He said he does not blame the individual agents who are working hard at the ports, but believes their managers are not enforcing the presidential order.
It especially bothers Del Cueto to discover that Mexican nationals are allowed to purchase large amounts of groceries at stores, such as the Walmart Supercenter in Douglas, while some elderly Americans are having a difficult time purchasing essential items.
On the Facebook Page of the radio podcast of the Border Patrol Council, called The Greenline, there are photos of an SUV with Mexican license plates being loaded with dozens of crates filled with milk jugs. The caption, dated Thursday, March 26: This is just one of the many problems border towns face. Essential traffic at the port? These pictures were taken a few hours ago at the Walmart in Douglas, Arizona.
Del Cueto said that while some stores are restricting the number of items such as milk that can be purchased, Mexican nationals are apparently allowed to enter the country and buy as much as they want.
In response to a question about its policy on selling large quantities of milk, a member of the Walmart management team in Douglas said in a phone interview that “we do make special offers for customers that want more than six gallons.”
He said the limit is six gallons for anyone who walks into the store, but there is no limit to the number of gallons that will be sold to those who make a special order.
When asked if the same policy applied to Mexican nationals and Americans, the Walmart employee said, “It does not matter to us whether you’re from either side of the border.”
It is not clear whether Americans are aware of this policy.
In order for a large order to be placed, he said they preferred customers would place those orders in person.
“It takes two to three days for the order to come in,” he said. “We call them and let them know the milk has come in. It depends on when the distributor gets them to us.”
Del Cueto, whose union represents Border Patrol agents, said he is hearing from customs agents at the ports of entry, although they have another union representing them.
“I talked to the union that represents them, the NTEU,” Del Cueto said. He said he believes he has been receiving the calls from customs agents about ignoring the president’s order because Border Patrol Council officials have been at the border so much.
Indian nationals caught and released
Del Cueto has also been at the center of a recent controversy involving a group of 16 Indian nationals, who were taken into custody by Border Patrol agents after crossing illegally from Mexico into Douglas. They reportedly traveled through Italy and Spain, two nations that were hit hard by the Corona virus outbreak, before entering Mexico.
Del Cueto received a tip that after Border Patrol agents turned them over to ICE on Monday, March 23 – a normal procedure — ICE agents released them to the Catholic Charities Casa Alitas Program in Tucson. They were subsequently taken to a bus station. ICE was supposed to retain custody of them, in a family residential center (FRC).
Attempts were made to reach Catholic Charities for a response.
After Del Cueto reported on what had occurred on America Uncensored, the Daily Caller media outlet’s podcast, ICE officials initially denied it. Then Del Cueto received a text message from a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official in Washington, which confirmed that Del Cueto had reported the true story.
That official of CBP, the parent agency of ICE and the Border Patrol, admitted that ICE officials had dropped the ball on this case. He told Del Cueto that this won’t happen again.
At that point, ICE agents retrieved the Indian nationals they had released to this charity on Wednesday and transported them to a Family Residential Center, said a statement by ICE public affairs officer Yasmeen Pitts O’Keefe. She said the reason the 16 Indian nationals, five family units, were sent to the charity was because there was a lack of bed space at a family residential center.
On Monday, the western regional director of ICE public affairs said she did not know where those Indian nationals were located.
“We don’t have any family residential center in Arizona,” Paige Hughes said. “The closest one is in Texas.”
She said that foreign nationals in custody will typically proceed through the immigration process, through the Department of Justice’s Office of Immigration Review.