At a time when immigration enforcement has polarized the country, new acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan said he hopes to make a difference.
“I actually came out of retirement to take on this job to do just that,” he told NBC 5 in an exclusive interview while in Chicago for the CBP’s trade symposium this week. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe I could make a difference.”
Morgan said he knows his work doesn’t just affect those along the southwest border.
“Every city is a border city and what I mean by that is everything that happens in the southwest border, it makes its way to every major metropolitan city in this country, including Chicago,” he said.
CBP was criticized last week after immigration police detained three children for several hours at O’Hare Airport, though the organization said the children were released to their mother after she picked them up at the airport.
While Chicago recently added more protections for immigrants ahead of possible ICE raids, Morgan argued the city should be working more with its federal partners. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the city has cut ICE off from access to any Chicago police databases. ICE is a sister agency for CBP.
She said she told ICE leadership in Chicago of her "strong objection to any raids and the things that are happening that are terrorizing and traumatizing our community."
“These are targeted enforcement operations against those who have committed additional crimes, those who have due process and have final orders of removal and refuse to comply with the law,” Morgan said.
The Trump administration's zero tolerance policy last year led to the separation of families at the southern border, igniting widespread outcry before it was abandoned.
The administration has been straining to manage a border crisis, and some officials believe flashy shows of force in deporting families would deter others migrants from coming. But others have criticized any move that draws resources away from the border at a time when the Border Patrol is detaining four times the number of people it can hold. Also, a watchdog report found filthy, potentially dangerous conditions at some stations.
“What we need to start doing is stop playing the blame game and start talking about what we need to actually address this,” Morgan said. “Congress can and needs to and should pass meaningful legislation to address the loopholes in our legal framework. If they do that, you're going to see the migrant flow go down.”
Some activist groups said they are planning a rally outside the CBP’s symposium, set to be held this week at the Marriott Marquis in Chicago.
Marriott was among several hotel chains to release statements earlier this month saying they don’t want their hotels used to detain migrants.