The number of migrants crossing into the U.S. increased to the highest levels in roughly two decades last month, including record crossings by children and teens without parents, underscoring the scope of the problem confronting President Joe Biden.
U.S. authorities apprehended more than 172,000 migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border in March, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data released Thursday. That’s a 71% increase from February, a spike that challenges the Biden administration’s claim that the rise is part of a normal seasonal trend.
Among the people who crossed last month were nearly 18,900 unaccompanied minors, double the number from February and well above the previous monthly record of 11,861 in May 2019 under former President Donald Trump.
The data is likely to fuel criticism of Biden by congressional Republicans, who say his reversal of Trump’s hard-line immigration policies is fueling the increase. Biden and his aides have said the influx is due to poverty and the fallout from natural disasters in Central America, and is part of a trend of increased crossings since April 2020.
Biden has pledged to create a more humane immigration system and sign laws that would offer a citizenship path to millions living illegally in the U.S.
In its first three months, the Biden administration has rushed to open emergency shelters and intake sites to get children and teens from Central America out of CBP facilities, where they are often held for longer than the three-day legal limit in cramped conditions.
Biden administration officials say they were left with a malfunctioning system by Trump, but are making progress in handling the flow of migrants. They said they have opened or are preparing nine emergency sites to house minors, which has helped increase the daily average number of children transferred from CBP facilities from 276 at the beginning of the month to 507.
The data also shows the challenge faced by Border Patrol agents, who are also struggling with the historic numbers of encounters with single adults and family units who can be expelled under an emergency public-health order called Title 42.
More than 103,000 single adults were turned away using the policy, the majority of those apprehended. But 28% of those were migrants who have been apprehended before but attempted to cross the border again.
Only about 30% of the roughly 52,500 family members who crossed were rapidly returned to Mexico because of the country’s inability to accept certain families from Central America with children under 6, according to Biden administration officials. The others were processed for immigration proceedings inside the U.S., according to the figures.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.