Homeland Security Secretary visits Arizona, addresses COVID-19 safety at the border

Homeland Security Secretary visits southern Arizona

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf visited southern Arizona on Tuesday to tour the border wall and operations in Nogales.

Wolf visited the Nogales Commercial Port of Entry and participated in an aerial tour of the Southwest border to review the new construction of the wall.

He traveled to Tucson where he visited a Customs and Border Protection Sector Coordination Center.

In a press conference, Wolf emphasized safety on several fronts.

The first being protecting agents during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Our first and foremost priority is keeping our workforce safe and healthy,” Wolf said.

Border Patrol facilities are using Title 42 authority, meaning they are holding and processing migrants for hours before returning them back to the country they traveled in from.

“These are individuals that come to us with little to no medical history, little to no travel history and often times with no identity documents. So it’s very difficult to do any type of medical checks on them and understand where they’ve been and what they’ve been exposed to,” Wolf said.

Wolf said Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities are also practicing social distancing when they can. He explained they can’t always do so, but have released a number of vulnerable people and some facilities are down to 75 percent capacity.

Wolf also credits the Migrant Protection Protocols to keeping high numbers of migrants out of facilities, as well as court orders that have made them release more people as well.

"We're also being sued by a number of folks so we've had to release a number of criminals back into communities dictated to us by courts and judges."

They’re also seeing fewer migrants to begin with: April 2020 showed record low apprehensions compared to this time last year.

“It’s really night and day. It allows border patrol to do their job and frees up resources and having a lot of resources here to handle that flow and it’s the border patrol back on the line doing their job, national security, border security,” Wolf said.

The issue of national security is why Wolf says they’re pushing forward with construction during COVID-19 despite push back from several environmental groups and the criticism of moving military funds to build it.

“We meet with these groups we try to accommodate any concerns they have but at the end of the day the administration has been very clear on this front which is border security is national security so we’re going to secure that border every way we can,” Wolf said. "We’re going to continue to build that wall and the administration is going to continue to work with Congress where we can and if congress won’t fund it, we’ll use our authorities completely legal authorities to get those priority sections built and that’s what we’re doing today.”

Continuing construction with 200 miles expected to be finished by the end of June and 300 to 400 by the end of the year.

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