More people have been apprehended illegally crossing the US-Mexico border this fiscal year than in any year since 2009, according to Customs and Border Protection.
Between October and April, the US Border Patrol apprehended 460,294 people for illegally crossing into the US from the southern border.
“I expect we will surpass 500,000 this weekend,” Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost told a Senate panel Wednesday. “Our apprehension numbers are off the charts compared to recent years.”
In 2009, agents made 540,865 apprehensions on the southern border for the full fiscal year. Every year since then, apprehensions have remained below the half-million mark.
Last month, 98,977 people were apprehended at the southern border, marking yet another increase.
“Just a few days into May, this trend shows no signs of slowing down,” a Department of Homeland Security official said Tuesday. “In the past 10 days, Border Patrol has apprehended over 33,000 individuals on the Southwest border. These numbers have caused us to surpass the FY totals for every single year since 2009 in just over seven months.”
“What makes these numbers so dramatically different than anything we’ve ever faced in the history of Border Patrol is the demographic,” the official said. There continue to be record numbers of families and children arriving predominantly from the Northern triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, with over 58,000 family members apprehended on the southern border in April.
Around 8,800 unaccompanied children were also taken into custody last month.
The high numbers and demographic makeup of migrants arriving at the border are causing “dire concerns,” said the official.
According to the official, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Health and Human Services, which is tasked with caring for unaccompanied migrant children, lack sufficient bed space to keep up with the apprehensions, forcing migrants to be held for extended periods in short-term holding facilities.
“This is dangerously elevating the time in custody and poses serious, significant safety risks” to agents as well as migrants, said the official.
Additionally, the Border Patrol has released over 32,000 family members to nongovernmental organizations and at bus stations.
“We know that the continued release of family units will only continue to increase the pull factors, however, we have no other options,” said the DHS official, who added that “single adult bed space is now a critical issue.”
Similarly, ICE has released 168,000 family members from its custody since Dec. 21, 2018, and has surged personnel and resources to assist with the border mission.
“This shift obviously has a negative impact on our public safety efforts,” ICE acting Director Matthew Albence said Tuesday. “Unfortunately, those officers are no longer there to take custody of these individuals or make these arrests.”
Albence said that ICE’s “most meaningful” civil immigration enforcement statistics are all down by double digits this year as a result.
“In fact our convicted criminal arrests are down 14%, as a direct result of having to support what’s going on at the border. While we keep talking about this being a border crisis, it’s really more than that. It’s a crisis for this entire country,” he added.
To address the influx, Customs and Border Protection has also shifted “large portions” of personnel and resources to the southern border, including 545 customs officers from ports of entry and 325 agents from other locations.
Currently, 40% to 60% of Border Patrol manpower is dedicated to the care, feeding, processing and hospital watch of migrants, according to DHS officials.
Border Patrol has also canceled training, increased overtime hours, brought agents back from “valuable task forces” and shut down checkpoints.
Office of Refugee Resettlement Director Jonathan Hayes warned lawmakers at a Senate hearing Wednesday of the ramifications if the program is not provided additional funding soon.
“Without additional funding, there is a significant likelihood that the UAC program will exhaust all of its resources in June, in which case HHS may need to reallocate more funds from refugees and victims of trafficking and torture, and scale back services,” Hayes said in his statement to the Judiciary Committee.
“In the worst-case scenario, thousands of children might remain for lengthy periods of time in DHS facilities that were never intended to be long-term shelters, rather than being expeditiously transferred to HHS custody, where they would receive case management and other services that address their unique needs,” he added.
Roughly 8,700 unaccompanied children were turned over to the office last month, more than double the number of children compared to the previous April, a senior agency official told CNN. The number of border apprehensions is not a direct correlation, but it still impacts the capacity in HHS facilities.
The White House supplemental request recently sent to Congress asked for an increase in shelter capacity to accommodate the high number of unaccompanied children.