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Border Sector Chiefs Confirm Operational Impacts of Border Chaos: Increased Gotaways, Closed Checkpoints, and Empowered Cartels

December 20, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, House Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Mark E. Green, MD (R-TN) issued the following statement after the Committee released more selections from transcribed interviews conducted with Border Patrol chief patrol agents responsible for the sectors along the Southwest border. These interviews confirm the historic crisis at the Southwest border has affected the operations of Border Patrol agents in the field and limited their ability to conduct their homeland security mission, leading to more gotaways and the increased risk these individuals represent, as well as more drugs being smuggled by the criminal cartels across the border. 
“I fear the extent of the threat posed by the record-number of gotaways on Secretary Mayorkas’ watch won’t be clear until it is too late. The number of individuals apprehended illegally crossing the Southwest border and found to be on the terrorist watchlist has increased 2,500 percent from Fiscal Years 2017-2020 to Fiscal Year 2023. And those are only who we’ve caught,” Chairman Green said. “How many others have slipped by as Border Patrol agents have increasingly been pulled off the line to process illegal aliens crossing the border? How many violent criminals and gang members are now at large in our communities? Border security is national security, and right now, the border is not secure. When upwards of two million people have entered our country, whom we know nothing about, we are at deadly risk. Secretary Mayorkas must be held accountable for this national security malpractice.”
Under President Biden and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) sources have confirmed over 1.7 million known gotaways at the Southwest border. Even worse, in a March 2023 field hearing, then-U.S. Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz testified that the number of total gotaways could be as much as 20 percent higher than the publicly reported numbers. 
In Fiscal Year (FY) 2023, CBP arrested 35,433 illegal aliens with criminal convictions nationwide, including 598 known gang members. In addition, 294 illegal aliens on the terrorist watchlist have been apprehended at the Southwest border between ports of entry since the beginning of FY 2021—and those are only the individuals Border Patrol agents have caught. Not only are dangerous individuals attempting to cross our border, but deadly drugs are too. Last fiscal year, CBP, including Air and Marine Operations, seized 27,293 pounds of poisonous fentanyl coming across the Southwest border—enough to kill around 6 billion people. Notably, federal officials estimate they are only able to seize 5-10 percent of all fentanyl smuggled across the Southwest border. 
As more illegal aliens than ever before turn themselves in to Border Patrol in order to avail themselves of Secretary Mayorkas’ mass catch-and-release policies, the chief patrol agents highlighted in their interviews the national security threats posed by the illegal aliens who still avoid apprehension, and what their backgrounds and intentions may be.
In the Committee’s annual Worldwide Threats hearing last month, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher Wray confirmed the national security threat posed by the growing number of gotaways at the Southwest border—especially as America’s enemies, including Iran-backed Hamas and Hezbollah, have been emboldened to spread their malign influence following the October 7 terrorist attacks on Israel. Wray also alluded to Chairman Green that the national security consequences of the crisis have turned every state into a border state.
One of the major operational impacts of the historic crisis has been the forced closure of interior security checkpoints that further aid the Border Patrol in intercepting illicit drugs that have been smuggled across the border. Agents have been pulled away from manning these checkpoints in order to process and release illegal aliens. Chairman Green issued the following statement about these impacts, in particular:
“Interior U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints play a crucial role in interdicting deadly drugs and criminal aliens before they impact our communities,” Chairman Green said. “It is simply unacceptable that the massive number of illegal aliens crossing the border and being released into the interior has forced Border Patrol leadership to close these checkpoints, in some cases, every single one in a sector. Without these transcribed interviews, the American people would likely have never known about the disastrous operational impacts of Secretary Mayorkas’ policies. 
“Where these checkpoints have been closed, there is no doubt that dangerous individuals and drugs have made it into our country undetected. It’s time for Secretary Mayorkas to ask himself how many more families need to be torn apart by the criminal cartels taking advantage of his open-borders policies. Accountability is coming for this utter failure to secure and defend our borders.”
Last month, the Tucson Sector in Arizona announced the closure of an Interstate 19 checkpoint after the fiscal year began with a 140-percent increase in alien encounters compared to the previous October. The Lukeville, Arizona port of entry has also been closed as of this month, as CBP officers and Border Patrol agents have begun processing roughly 2,500 inadmissible aliens every day. From Dec. 3-4, there were over 10,000 migrant encounters across the Southwest border, including over 8,000 apprehended by the Border Patrol between ports of entry and nearly 2,000 more encountered at ports of entry. On Dec. 5, total encounters exceeded 12,000 just at the Southwest border.
The House Committee on Homeland Security and the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability conducted interviews with eight chief patrol agents and one deputy chief patrol agent from April-September 2023 to acquire more information about operations in their sectors and how the crisis has impacted the safety and security of the United States. These interviews were part of the Committees’ ongoing investigation into the causes, costs, and consequences of the unprecedented crisis at America’s borders, and the role of Secretary Mayorkas in facilitating and maintaining this crisis. 
Read previous selections of the transcripts in which these senior agents discussed how they have never seen such historic numbers of illegal crossings, the lack of consequences enforced by this administration for illegal entry, how mass releases function as a pull factor for millions of illegal aliens, how illegal aliens are now turning themselves in to Border Patrol to be released into the interior, the expansive degree of cartel control at the Southwest border, the dangerous decision to take agents out of the field in order to help process illegal aliens, and how illegal aliens are spreading the word of our open border back home.


Read more in Fox News via Adam Shaw.

Read sections of the transcripts below.


Chief Patrol Agent Sean McGoffin, Big Bend Sector 

Q: And how many encounters, if you know, did Big Bend have that month?

A: 5,050.  

Q: And when you have 5,050 encounters, what does that look like in terms of strain on resources in the sector? 

A: Well, I mean, the resources where we’re at, the difficulties, I think the real problem is looking at the where the majority of these entries were and then looking at the resources that were available. So we had to make changes there to make sure that we could adequately deal with that particular area, and we did so.  

I think if you’re talking about strained resources, a lot of it has to do with the amount of people that are actually available in the area. We had to change our tactics. We had to be—we had to take advantage of the terrain and have operational advantage where we didn’t have it in the past.  

It is very rough terrain, and agents would oftentimes—they would find an entry and they would track that entry out to wherever it was. And then if it was in the mountains, it would take more people to actually go and make sure that everybody got out safely and then returned back to the station.  

Chief Patrol Agent Jason Owens, Del Rio Sector 

Q: Is it easier or harder to maintain operational advantage or operational control during times where migrant flow is high?

A: It’s more difficult.

Chief Patrol Agent Gregory Bovino, El Centro Sector

Q: Has the trend of seeing large groups existed throughout your career in Border Patrol, or is that a more recent phenomenon?

A: I’ve seen large groups throughout my career. However, over the past couple of years, I’ve seen more larger groups.

Chief Patrol Agent Anthony “Scott” Good, El Paso Sector

Q: In August of 2022, encounter numbers were at almost 30,000. By September, the encounters went up to 50,000. Do you know what impacts that had on operations in El Paso?

A: Like I mentioned before, it draws manpower from the field. It puts a strain on resources, such as transportation to transport from the field to processing. We require more support from other sectors to help us out with manpower, as well as virtual processing. 

Chief Patrol Agent Anthony “Scott” Good, El Paso Sector 

Q: Does the risk profile for Border Patrol agents increase with increasing flow of illegal immigration in between the ports of entry?

A: Yes.

Q: And how so?

A: There’s limited manpower dealing with large groups. We’ve got less agents in the field because agents are processing in the processing centers. And then, with the less agents in the field, they’re dealing with more people. And people with bad intentions can be mixed into those large groups. That can be overwhelming to any law enforcement official that could be in one of those crowds.

Chief Patrol Agent Joel Martinez, Laredo Sector 

Q: If there’s more individuals crossing illegally in between ports of entry at the Laredo Sector, does that make it more difficult for your agents to apprehend as many people as possible?

A: Well, they’re apprehending—if they’re apprehending people, a large amount of people between the ports of entry, does that mean that they can’t get somebody else, is that what you’re asking me? I’m sorry. 

Q: If more agents are arresting—are arresting more people and then bringing them back to the Border Patrol station for processing—

A: Oh, okay. 

Q: —before they get out into the field, does that impact their ability to— 

A: It can, yes.

Chief Patrol Agent Gloria Chavez, Rio Grande Valley Sector

Q: So when—I guess the point of my question is, when there are miles—even when you’re fully staffed, there are miles that are unpatrolled by agents, right, so you don’t have one agent per mile.

A: Correct, correct. 

Q: When there’s a surge and you have to take a bunch of agents off the line, does that leave many more miles wide open on the border without patrol?

A: It does leave vulnerability for us, because agents are being pulled away from primary patrol duties to come access a certain situation. 


Chief Patrol Agent Aaron Heitke, San Diego Sector

Q: Do you know how the got‑away trends in San Diego have fluctuated since you first came on board?

A: They’ve continued to rise.

Q: And what factors do you attribute that rise to?

A: Increased traffic on the border itself.

Chief Patrol Agent Jason Owens, Del Rio Sector 

Q: Would you say the majority of individuals encountered by Border Patrol agents in the Del Rio Sector are voluntarily turning themselves in to Border Patrol agents upon encounter or are they actively trying to evade apprehension?

A: So last year, I would say that predominantly they were turning themselves in.


A: Again, I go back to that is the major concern for us, is the border security mission.  And our true adversary, the smugglers, while we’re tied up with this humanitarian effort, what are they doing around the bend that we can’t be there to respond to? Is that where they’re crossing dangerous narcotics? Is that where they’re crossing convicted felons?  That is what keeps us up at night.  

Chief Patrol Agent Jason Owens, Del Rio Sector 

Q: Can the gotaway numbers be attributed to the increased flow at the Southwest border? 

A: So, by virtue of the fact that I don’t have as many agents out on patrol because they’re addressing that flow, then it can provoke the gotaway numbers to be higher because we’re not out there. If we were out there, it stands reason we might be able to apprehend more of them. 

At the same time, because we’re not out there and as great a number, we might be missing some of the gotaways and not know as many as are actually getting away.

Chief Patrol Agent Jason Owens, Del Rio Sector

Q: Does the high flow that the Del Rio Sector is currently experiencing have an impact on Border Patrol’s ability to reduce the number of known got‑aways coming into the sector?

A: Absolutely.

Q: And in what ways?

A: As I said before, if my men and women are stuck in a humanitarian effort of processing these folks, they cannot be in two places at once. They cannot be out on patrol. And where I need them out on patrol is to not only account for those got‑aways but to reduce them, where possible. 
Everything revolves, as I said before, around having those men and women on the ground doing the job.

Chief Patrol Agent John Modlin, Tucson Sector 

Q:  In responding to those large groups, you mentioned the transportation difficulties and them being in remote areas. Is there an operational impact to agents being able to prevent those who are seeking to evade apprehension?

A: Yes. So once we’re aware of one of those large groups and where they’re at and the conditions that they’re in, then the primary goal becomes the humanitarian mission of, of course, apprehending them, but also making sure that they’re not out there in the heat.  We try to get them out as soon as possible. So then the border security mission suffers at that point.

Chief Patrol Agent Anthony “Scott” Good, El Paso Sector 

Q: So if you look at January, the encounter—January ’23, the top row, the encounter numbers were about 30,000. And then by March they had risen to 40,000; by April, 42,000. 

Do you know what drove that 2‑month jump?  

A: I do not.

Q: Did Border Patrol feel the impact of that large jump?

A: Yes.

Q: And in what ways did it impact operations? 

A: When you have larger influxes such as this, it takes more agents to assist in processing, not only for the processing of the migrants but the welfare and care of the migrants, the security of those facilities.

So that—that is a draw of manpower from the field, which is where we’ll see an increase in things like got‑aways, what we call when migrants evade us and we don’t make the encounter or apprehension.

Chief Patrol Agent Anthony “Scott” Good, El Paso Sector

Q: Given the migrant surges that have been experienced in recent years, does that have an impact on Border Patrol’s ability to reduce the number of known got‑aways in the El Paso Sector in terms of diverting resources or some other factor?

A: As we’re spread thin doing other functions and have less agents available to make interdictions, that increases the likelihood of got‑aways.

Chief Patrol Agent Gloria Chavez, Rio Grande Valley Sector 

Q: Do your agents also encounter individuals who have sought to evade detection?

A: We do. Mostly, at times, it’s single adults.

Q: Do your agents encounter individuals in the field who have prior criminal convictions or outstanding warrants? 

A: They do. Our agents encounter that.

Q: What types of crimes or allegations are you seeing? 

A: So there’s a variety that are encountered. Many times it’s gang Members. Other times, there are criminal records of sex offenders, homicide, burglaries, et cetera. 


Chief Patrol Agent Aaron Heitke, San Diego Sector 

Q: Okay. Do the transnational criminal organizations charge extra for individuals who are seeking to evade apprehension entirely, if you know?

A: Yes. From what we have gathered from people, depending—it costs more to go through an area that has a better chance of getting away.

Q: Are you concerned about the public safety risk that could be presented by an individual who is paying that premium to evade Border Patrol in terms of prior criminal history, of removal history—

A: Yes.

Q: —or other factors? 

A: Yes.

Chief Patrol Agent Aaron Heitke, San Diego Sector 

Q: You testified earlier that there were approximately 66,000 known got‑aways since October 1st of this previous calendar year. Is that correct?  

A: Correct. 

Q: Are you concerned that the got‑away population in San Diego could also include individuals who have derogatory information related to terrorism? 

A: Yes. 

Q: Are you concerned that the public safety risk presented by individuals who evade detection by Border Patrol in the San Diego Sector could increase when the CDC order under Title 42 expires? 

A: Yes.

Chief Patrol Agent Aaron Heitke, San Diego Sector 

Q: You mentioned that increased encounter numbers affect agents’ ability to police the border and to capture those who seek to evade apprehension entirely—gotaways—correct?

A: Yes. 

Q: Have gotaways increased in the past 2 years? 

A: Yes. 

Q: Are gotaways potentially dangerous from a public safety standpoint?

A: Yes.

Deputy Chief Patrol Agent Dustin Caudle, Yuma Sector 

Q: You mentioned earlier some of the crimes of individuals who had been encountered by Border Patrol. I believe some of them were fairly serious.  
Does it concern you that there could be individuals getting away from Border Patrol in the Yuma Sector who may have serious criminal histories or other public safety concerns? 

A: So as I stated earlier, border security, national security, those are always concerns of mine. That is our job. That is our daily function. So I’m always concerned about that.  

Chief Patrol Agent Sean McGoffin, Big Bend Sector 

Q: What tactics do the human smuggling organizations use to enhance an individual’s ability to evade detection? 

A: In Big Bend Sector we see people in camouflage, camouflage backpacks. We see some of that. Walking at night. What they’re looking at in our AOR as far as our technology, what they do know, how to evade that, and then what we do to counter that.  They use vehicles, hidden compartments in vehicles.  

Chief Patrol Agent Jason Owens, Del Rio Sector 

Q: Are you concerned that individuals who are evading apprehension entirely could present an elevated risk of a public safety threat, such as a criminal—prior criminal history or a prior removal history? 

A: So here’s my concern. If a person is willing to put themselves into harm’s way crossing through very remote, very dangerous conditions to evade capture, you have to ask yourself why. What makes them willing to take that risk? That’s of concern to me.  

What’s also of concern to me is I don’t know who that individual is. I don’t know where they came from. I don’t know what their intention is. I don’t know what they brought with them. That unknown represents a risk, a threat. It’s of great concern to anybody that wears this uniform. 

Q: Are you aware of whether the transnational criminal organizations are charging a premium to individuals to guarantee or increase the likelihood that they will be able to evade apprehension by Border Patrol agents?

A: It wouldn’t surprise me. They look at their operations like a business venture. And so do they have tiers for what they charge? That wouldn’t surprise me at all.  

We already know that they charge based on where the person comes from and what their situation is. So they very easily could do what you’re saying.

Chief Patrol Agent Jason Owens, Del Rio Sector 

Q: Are you concerned that the gotaway population in the Del Rio Sector could include serious criminals or individuals who might be terrorists? 

A: So that’s the concern of just the gotaways in general. As I said before, you don’t know who they are, where they come from, what their intent is, what they’re bringing with them. And it could range from very minimal to very severe. We just don’t know. And so, because of that, of course it’s a concern.  

Chief Patrol Agent Joel Martinez, Laredo Sector 

Q: Are you concerned that the got‑away population could potentially include serious criminals or people with ties to terrorism? 

A: Yes. 

Chief Patrol Agent Gloria Chavez, Rio Grande Valley Sector 

Q: Given that you encounter individuals with prior criminal histories, prior removal histories, potential terrorist concerns, does the gotaway population concern you from a national security standpoint? 

A: Of course. I think it concerns every Border Patrol agent. Our focus and our mission is to secure the border between those ports of entry. So, for any Border Patrol agent, it is a concern. 

Chief Patrol Agent Gregory Bovino, El Centro Sector 

Q: Do got‑aways concern you from a national security standpoint?

A: Yes.  

Q: And why is that?

A: Any got‑away or any illegal alien for that matter presents a threat to national security or a threat to the taxpayer of the United States. We see that time and again, whether it’s planes crashing into buildings, or whether it’s, you know, the vast amount of American citizens that die each year at the hands of illegal aliens.  
And so when you ask me if it concerns me, it concerns me not about a got‑away, but about anyone coming into the United States illegally and being—and remaining here illegally in the United States, because, you know, when you—when you look at a parent and they’re worried about a closed casket for their kid, it takes on a different—a different perspective, so, yes.

Chief Patrol Agent John Modlin, Tucson Sector 

Q: Do you have any national security concerns with the influence and the power that the cartels have on the border? 

A: So my national security concerns come in with just related to the smuggling, the people that are getting away from us, sort of the unknowns out there.  

When we make an arrest, we can then vet that person and find out, if they have a criminal history, if there are national security concerns.  
Of course, anyone that we don’t apprehend is of a concern to me. 

Chief Patrol Agent John Modlin, Tucson Sector

Q: Are gotaways a public safety concern? 

A: So I think gotaways are a public safety concern, but, as we discussed, I believe we discussed earlier also potentially a national security concern as well. 

Q: Is it possible that some of these gotaways have ties to the cartels? 

A: Yes. Certainly they could.

Chief Patrol Agent Anthony “Scott” Good, El Paso Sector 

Q: Are you concerned that individuals who are more likely to evade apprehension, then [sic] turn themselves in to Border Patrol, may have a criminal history or some other derogatory information that could lead to a public safety risk?

A: Yes.

Q: Has Border Patrol in the El Paso Sector, do they routinely encounter individuals with prior criminal histories?

A: Yes.

Q: Do these criminal histories relate to crimes involving public safety concerns?  

A: Yes.

Q: Do your agents in the El Paso Sector encounter individuals who have derogatory information related to terrorism?

A: Yes.

Chief Patrol Agent Anthony “Scott” Good, El Paso Sector 

Q: But why do you think it’s important—it’s an important aim to prevent all unlawful entries, including entries by terrorists and other unlawful aliens? 

A: We want to protect the country. So anyone that evades apprehension from us, we don’t know what their intent is or what they’re capable of. 


Chief Patrol Agent Aaron Heitke, San Diego Sector 

Q: Throughout 2021, encounters fluctuated—and into 2022—between about 12,000 to where it hit its peak in July of 2022 to about 16,000. 

How did your sector handle those fluctuations? 

A: We focused on the actual border, the land border. So San Diego Sector has 60 miles of land border and then 900‑plus miles of coastline and then our checkpoints and interior operations. We pulled resources out of—off of the maritime side and then the checkpoint side and focused on the actual physical land border. 

Q: What kind of impact did it have operationally to have to focus resources away from checkpoints and the water? 

A: We don’t see what’s going on in those areas nearly as much and it lessens our impact on particularly those that—the reason our checkpoints are there is to arrest what we miss on the border at further into the interior. And so we’re not able to do that. 

Q: So what kind of things could you be missing? 

A: Individuals that made it past us at the border, and then narcotics that made it past as well. 

Chief Patrol Agent Aaron Heitke, San Diego Sector 

Q: We mentioned before that your sector has four interior checkpoints. Do your agents routinely seize narcotics and interdict illegal immigrants at those checkpoints?  

A: Yes. 

Q: Has there been any impact on operations of those checkpoints given the high flow of illegal immigration over the last 2 years since you’ve been in San Diego Sector? 

A: Yes. 

Q: What has that impact been? 

A: The checkpoints and the interior payment operation have been very, very sporadic.  

Q: Are you concerned that operations at those checkpoints may again become sporadic when the CDC’s order under Title 42 expires? 

A: They’re already shut down.

Q: So your checkpoints are currently shut down, the interior checkpoints?  

A: Yes.

Q: So that means agents are not screening individuals for immigration status or narcotics or other criminal activity at those checkpoints currently?  

A: Correct.  

Chief Patrol Agent Gregory Bovino, El Centro Sector 

Q: Do the surges have an impact on your ability to keep those checkpoints operational?  

A: Yes.  

Q: Is that impact a staffing impact, or what is the impact of the surges on the checkpoints?  

A: Yes, it’s a staffing impact.  

Q: Is the staffing impact because agents that would be manning the checkpoint are needed for other duties, such as care processing of illegal aliens, or what is the impact of the surges?  

A: Yes, that is the impact.  

Q: Since you’ve been in the El Centro Sector since April of 2020, has there ever been a time when you’ve had to shut down one of your permanent checkpoints?  

A: Yes.

Chief Patrol Agent Anthony “Scott” Good, El Paso Sector 

Q: Do you operate interior checkpoints in the El Paso Sector?

A: Yes.

Q: Do you know approximately how many interior checkpoints you have operational in the El Paso Sector?

A: Six checkpoints that are permanent checkpoints. We also have tactical checkpoints that we’ll put up from time to time.

Q: Those tactical checkpoints are in response to intelligence being received or migration trends or other factors?

A: If we see an increase of smuggling loads, reckless driving, those kinds of things, we’ll put up additional checkpoints to try to make the community more safe.

Q: Has the increase in illegal migration over the last few years impacted the ability to keep those checkpoints operational?

A: It makes it more challenging, yes.

Deputy Chief Patrol Agent Dustin Caudle, Yuma Sector 

Q: You mentioned you have three interior checkpoints in the Yuma Sector; is that accurate? 

A: Yes, sir.  

Q: Are those checkpoints useful in encountering additional narcotics or illegal entrants who may have made it past Border Patrol in the first instance when they cross the border? 

A: Yes, they are.  

Q: To your knowledge, was there ever an impact on the operations of those interior checkpoints given the increase of flow over the last few years you witnessed in Yuma? 

A: Yes, sir. For the majority of Fiscal Year ’22 and even really up until May of this year, our checkpoints were down.

Q: All three of them? 

A: Yes, sir.  

Q: And what impact does that have on the enforcement posture of the entire sector when those checkpoints go down? 

A: So it opens up the freedom of movement. It’s pretty common for—you’ll hear it a lot in law enforcement. For any criminal organization to be successful, they require freedom of movement, and that is key to being able—whether it’s moving people or moving dangerous narcotics, weapons, cash, whatever it is. Any time that’s impeded, it has an impact. 


Q: When those checkpoints were down, were they down because the Yuma Sector needed the agents that would otherwise be staffing those checkpoints for process, patrolling, other duties? 

A: Yes, sir.  

Deputy Chief Patrol Agent Dustin Caudle, Yuma Sector

Q: Do you know what the trends that you’re currently seeing in narcotic interceptions are? 

A: Narcotics are—the interdictions are up in Yuma Sector. Yuma Sector is not a well‑known narcotic corridor. Again, it’s mostly a human smuggling‑type corridor.  Those are clearly defined with the cartels, but fentanyl is up. Cocaine is up. Heroin is up. 

Again, a lot of that is, again, because the checkpoints are now up and fully operational, and so it doesn’t mean that we’re catching everything. It doesn’t mean that there’s not things that aren’t getting away from us, but the increase that you see this FY compared to the previous FY is largely in part because the checkpoints are now fully operational. 

Q: Does that indicate that because those checkpoints were not operational previously that there may have been a lot of narcotics that were making it into the interior of the country? 

A: Yes, sir. It’s certainly possible.