(The Center Square) – “More damaging evidence” of President Joe Biden’s immigration policies have been uncovered in a trial that began Monday in a lawsuit filed against the Biden administration by Florida, state Attorney General Ashley Moody said Thursday.
“Florida is the first state to take the Biden administration to trial over its unlawful catch-and-release policy,” Moody said.
Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz testified this week that after Biden took office in January 2021, policy changes were implemented via a memo that radically altered detention and release protocols, leading to an unprecedented number of people being released into the U.S. contrary to federal law established by Congress.
“We are using their own officials to prove to the court that the Biden administration knew its policies would create the chaos and destruction we now see at our Southwest Border,” Moody said. “Regardless of the outcome of this monumental trial – which we will win – the evidence we have uncovered is shining a light on the fact that Biden purposefully destroyed federal immigration protections and caused the intentional release of hundreds of thousands of immigrants into the country.”
Ortiz testified Tuesday that Biden administration policies repealed processing pathways of the MPP, ACA and PACR, which impacted Border Patrol agents’ ability to expeditiously process and remove illegal foreign nationals. Restrictions were also put in place regarding detention that forced agents to release even more people into the U.S.
When asked if reducing consequences that deter illegal immigration would increase illegal entries into the U.S., and that Biden administration policies were responsible for increasing the “flow of aliens” to the border, Ortiz answered, “yes.”
When asked if Biden administration policies restricting detention and processing resulted in Border Patrol agents releasing single adults and family units into the U.S. who otherwise wouldn’t have been released, Ortiz said, “That coupled with the reduced processing space or detention capacity within our facilities, and the increases in encounters that we were experiencing at the time all were part of that decision, yes.”
When asked about Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers not responding to detention requests, resulting in Border Patrol agents being forced to release people who should be detained, he said, “We don’t have a choice, you’re right.”
In another line of questioning about a January 2021 memo issued by White House senior official David Pekoske altering detention and release protocols, Ortiz testified that he wasn’t aware the policy had been blocked by a court and agents continued to implement it. Ortiz confirmed that the memo directed BP agents to “detain on a mandatory basis only those individuals listed” within specified priorities as opposed to those listed by federal statute.
At one point in Ortiz’s testimony, he appeared to contradict Border Patrol data when he replied to a question that “a new border surge” wasn’t occurring after the president was inaugurated.
He said, “I don’t know about a border surge. It’s been … we’ve been busy for a while. I felt like since 2013 we have steadily increased the levels of encounters that we’ve seen across the southwest border. So I’m not so sure I would characterize it as a new border surge but we are busy.”
He made the remarks after Customs and Border Protection have reported the largest number of apprehensions and illegal entries in U.S. history. In fiscal 2013, there were 414,371 apprehensions reported by all nine southwest Border Patrol sectors. By fiscal 2022, they totaled 2,378,944.
When asked “did some aliens not flow to the border because of the policies that were enacted by the Trump administration,” Ortiz said, “I believe there was a perception that there were potential consequences, so there were – I’m assuming migrants that made the decision not to travel to the U.S., yes.”
During the Trump administration, total southwest border apprehensions/encounters in fiscal 2016 were 408,870; in fiscal 2017, 303,916; in fiscal 2018, 396,579; and in fiscal 2020, 458,088, according to CBP data.
In fiscal 2021 after Biden took office, they totaled 1,734,686; in fiscal 2022, they totaled 2,378,944.
In the first two months of fiscal 2023, they total 465,034, greater than any full fiscal year in Trump’s presidency.
Moody’s office released a transcript of portions of Ortiz’s cross-examination in a trial underway in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida Pensacola Division.