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Border Patrol chief says tougher policies are needed to deter migrants from entering U.S. illegally

Border Patrol chief discusses Texas' SB4 law
Border Patrol chief addresses Texas SB4 immigration law in exclusive interview 07:44

Washington — In an interview on Thursday with CBS News, Border Patrol chief Jason Owens said the U.S. government needs to implement tougher immigration policies, including by jailing migrants, to deter unlawful crossings along the southern border.

"I think we need to take a look at the asylum laws and make it where only people that have a legitimate claim can claim asylum," Owens said in his first sit-down interview in English since assuming the top role at Border Patrol in June 2023. "I think that we need to be able to enforce the immigration laws that are on the books and hold people accountable whenever they choose to break the law."

Asked if was referring to tougher federal policies, Owens said, "Yes."

"If there's no motivation to do it the right way, and the right way, it is causing people to have to wait a little bit longer," Owens said. "Naturally, they're going to choose to come between the ports of entry. We need to take that off the table and make sure everybody's coming through the front door."

During the interview at Customs and Border Protection headquarters in Washington, Owens said Border Patrol, which is a division of CBP, needs more resources and the ability to impose higher "consequences" for migrants who cross the U.S.-Mexico border without authorization.

"I'm talking about jail time. I'm talking about being removed from the country and I'm talking about being banned from being able to come back because you chose to come in the illegal way instead of the established lawful pathways that we set for you," he said.

Over the past three years, Owens' agency has reported record levels of migrant apprehensions along the southern border, including more than 2 million in each of the past fiscal years.

The Biden administration has pushed Congress to enact stricter border policies in recent months. A bipartisan immigration deal negotiated in the Senate would have expanded the administration's ability to quickly deport migrants, raised the standard of proof in initial asylum interviews and sped up the process for deciding asylum claims. It also would have given the executive branch a new legal authority to effectively suspend asylum in between official ports of entry when migrant crossings surpass a certain level.

The deal collapsed in Congress after former President Donald Trump came out against it, prompting GOP lawmakers to follow suit. Republicans said the agreement did not go far enough to secure the border and argued the Biden administration can do more to enforce the immigration laws that are already on the books.

In the interview, Owens also made his first comments on SB4, a Texas immigration law that would allow state and local officials in the Lone Star State to arrest, jail and prosecute migrants. The law, which is being challenged by the Biden administration, was again put on hold by a federal appeals court earlier this week.

Owens said the law is "not going to stop us from doing our job," and that there is "no better partner for the Border Patrol than the Texas Department of Public Safety."

"We have worked hand in hand with that agency for as long as I've been around and I don't see that ever stopping. They have always been very good at complementing our mission," Owens added. "They back us up when we're out in the field, and we do for them as well. So whatever the laws are that they're going to be enforcing, our mission remains constant. Their mission remains constant."

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