The new details emerging daily at the US-Mexico border are tough to track.
It’s a fast-moving situation, described by the Biden administration as a “stressful challenge” and decried by critics of immigration as a “crisis.” There are a lot of developments we’re still learning in real time.
Here’s a look at some of the key numbers we’ve been hearing, the deeper stories behind them and the questions we have.
More than 3,700
What this number represents: How many unaccompanied migrant children were in Customs and Border Protection custody as of Wednesday
The deeper story behind it: This is a higher number than we’ve seen before. At the peak of the 2019 border crisis – when there were overcrowded facilities and children sleeping on the ground – there were around 2,600 unaccompanied children in Border Patrol custody, a former CBP official told CNN.
The treatment of kids in custody is one of the thorniest issues at the border. One of the largest public outcries we heard during the Trump administration came when monitors revealed squalid conditions inside CBP facilities where children were held. We haven’t heard much about the current conditions in these facilities. But it’s concerning, because the number of children arriving is outpacing the Biden administration’s ability to place them in shelters overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services. And due to limited capacity at shelters, children are being held in CBP facilities beyond the 72-hour limit the law requires.
The questions we have: Will the Biden administration open new facilities to house these children? Is this record high number of kids in CBP custody a sign of a major shift? Or will we see numbers stabilize as the new administration finds its footing?
More than 100,000
What this number represents: Encounters and arrests of migrants by US authorities in the past month
The deeper story behind it: This is a big number and getting a lot of attention. But context is also key. Because a pandemic policy remains in place that allows migrants to be swiftly kicked out of the country without going through as many steps, advocates say these statistics can also include repeated crossing attempts by individuals.
One reason these latest numbers are raising eyebrows: Usually the number of migrants crossing goes down in the winter, and creeps upward in the spring. The fact that we’re already seeing higher numbers could be a sign that we’ll keep seeing the number of migrants at the border grow.
The questions we have: What’s fueling this increase? Will the large numbers force the administration to adopt more restrictive policies on immigration, or will officials find a way to balance their more humanitarian policy goals with growing pressure at the border?
What this number represents: How many undocumented migrants died in a car crash near the border last week
The deeper story behind it: Authorities say 25 people were packed inside a Ford Expedition that had the capacity to safely carry eight. And that the same vehicle was earlier spotting going through a hole in the border fence. Verlyn Cardona, a woman who survived the crash, told CNN en Español she doesn’t believe the plan was for so many people to pile into the back of the truck. “People were running in and climbing on top of others,” she said. “The door closed. We said, ‘There’s not enough room. Open the door.’ The truck was moving.”Her daughter, a 23-year-old law student who she said was fleeing threats in Guatemala, was among those who perished.
There’s a lot we still don’t know about this crash. But advocates have long stressed that more people tend to cross the border in more dangerous ways when the government blocks people from entering at ports of entry to seek asylum.
The questions we have: What will the ongoing investigation into this crash reveal? Will this spur any policy changes at the border?
What this number represents: The number of miles of border wall built during Trump’s presidency
The deeper story behind it: Border wall construction – which included both replacing old sections of fencing and putting up barriers in new areas – was a focal point of the Trump administration. When President Biden took office, he issued an executive order halting border wall construction until further review. With numbers of migrants crossing the border climbing, critics of illegal immigration are decrying the administration’s decision to pause efforts to build a bigger border wall. Immigrants and many who live in border communities argue walls are ineffective and also often push migrants to cross in more dangerous areas.
In recent history, any efforts to reform the immigration system or legalize undocumented immigrants have included concessions to boost border security, but so far we haven’t seen this administration moving in that direction, even as officials propose sweeping overhauls.
The questions we have: Will we see any border wall construction resume under Biden? What about other efforts to boost border security?
What this number represents: How many people in Central America were affected by devastating hurricanes last year, according to UNICEF
The deeper story behind it: Hurricane Eta and Hurricane Iota didn’t get much attention in the United States when the powerful storms slammed into Central America last year. But they’re likely one big reason behind a lot of the migration that’s happening right now. Many migrants who recently spoke with CNN near the Mexico-Guatemala border mentioned the storms. They also said there were other factors influencing their decision to make the dangerous journey now, too. Among them: economic struggles during the pandemic and hope that the new administration will be more sympathetic to immigration.
The questions we have: How much is this latest wave of migration fueled by natural disasters and climate change? What steps might this administration take to better understand and prepare for climate migration?
CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez, Geneva Sands, Ray Sanchez, Matt Rivers, Natalie Gallón and Ed Lavandera contributed to this report.