(NewsNation) — Congressional representatives grilled the Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security during a hearing on Tuesday that was meant to address a report on Border Patrol staffing and morale but veered into a critique of the office and its methods.
Inspector General Joseph Cuffari appeared before the House Oversight Subcommittee on Health and Human Services in a hearing regarding a May 3rd report on staffing issues and the stress staffing levels have put on the immigration system.
The report noted that while Congress has authorized most of the personnel requested by Customs and Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, staffing has not kept pace with the amount of traffic at the border.
Both CBP and ICE filled 80% or more of their allotted positions between fiscal years 2019 and 2021. However, the number of migrant encounters increased dramatically, leaving agents to process more people. In 2021, an agent might have processed roughly 6,300 migrant encounters per month, while in 2022 that same agent would have processed nearly 14,400 encounters in the same time frame.
Vehicle traffic has also increased along the southern border, with 5 million more vehicles crossing through points of entry in 2022 than in 2021.
The report only covered fiscal years 2019 through 2022. Since the expiration of Title 42 in May, border encounters have dropped dramatically, though they still remain high when compared to previous decades.
In the hearing, Cuffari acknowledged that increased staffing in both border patrol agencies and immigration courts could help ease the burden on the system, though he noted immigration judges fell under the responsibility of the Department of Justice rather than Homeland Security.
Democrats on the committee questioned Cuffari on the methods used in the report, noting that the report itself said that data reliability did not meet accepted standards for a government audit, due to a lack of access to systems used by ICE and CBP. They also criticized the small sample size of agents surveyed, suggesting it might not paint an accurate picture of the situation.
Republicans on the committee focused on the situation at the border, suggesting that rather than adding additional staff, there needs to be more done to prevent people from crossing the border illegally. Lawmakers specifically focused on the issues of “gotaways,” a term for people who cross the border without authorization but are not apprehended by border agents, in some cases because there are no agents free to respond.
Cuffari also faced questioning on his office as a whole, as Democrats on the committee questioned him on programs unrelated to border staffing and the fact that he is under investigation for integrity and ethics.
While the issue of the southern border has been the focus of political debate and battle, Congress has not passed meaningful immigration reform since the 1990s.