Amid shake ups in leadership at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced the apprehension numbers for March were at levels near what it had predicted just weeks ago.
CBP reported this week that U.S. Border Patrol agents apprehended 92,607 people along the southwest border in March. The total includes 53,077 who were a part of family units and another 8,975 made up of unaccompanied minor children — the majority of whom are coming from the Central American countries of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala and surrendering to agents at the border.
Through March fiscal year 2018, Border Patrol agents apprehended 39,975 family units — compared to the 189,584 family unit apprehensions year to date in fiscal year 2019 — an increase of more than 370%, according to the agency’s website.
Through March of this year, Border Patrol agents apprehended a total of 35,898 unaccompanied minor children, an increase of more than 14,000 apprehensions, or a more-than-65% increase year over year.
CBP said it has also seen an increase in large groups of 100 or more people surrendering at once with more than 100 instances recorded so far this year, an increase from the 13 large groups encountered last fiscal year and from the two groups of 100 or more in fiscal year 2017.
On Monday, Border Patrol agents reported encountering a group of nearly 250 people surrendering to them near La Grulla, according to a news release.
The March apprehensions report arrives during a tumultuous time for the Trump administration’s immigration policies. President Donald Trump recently backed down from his threat to close the southern border and has said he would not reinstate the controversial policy that separated thousands of children from their parents last April.
Trump was also recently dealt a setback after a federal court ruled against the administration’s “Return/Remain in Mexico” policy, a DHS-led initiative which sought to send immigrants to Mexico to wait during their respective U.S. immigration proceedings.
The increase in family units and unaccompanied minors arriving at the southwest border led now-former-DHS Secretary Kristjen M. Nielsen to reassign 750 CBP officers to the border — 300 of whom were sent to the Rio Grande Valley to help with processing the large groups of people seeking asylum.
Only days after the reassignments, Trump forced Nielsen’s resignation this past weekend, with CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan expected to take over as acting DHS secretary. The move comes after Immigration and Customs Enforcement acting director Ronald D. Vitiello was also removed from his position last week. He was expected to be confirmed by the senate as early as this month.
Whether the personnel changes and policy shifts will make an impact on the numbers crossing the border remains to be seen.
“We are currently experiencing a system-wide emergency in our processing and holding facilities. The humanitarian crisis created by a massive influx of family groups and unaccompanied children in recent months has forced CBP to reallocate resources away from law enforcement, trade and travel missions to process and provide care for those in our custody,” CBP Deputy Commissioner Robert E. Perez said in a prepared release. “The impacts to legitimate trade and travel cannot be overstated. As this crisis continues to worsen, it undermines CBP’s ability to perform its dual mission of protecting our borders and facilitating legitimate trade and travel.”
At the Border Patrol central processing center last week, officials noted the building, which was built to hold roughly 1,500 people, was on that day, holding about 2,400 people. Several other detention facilities are also experiencing overcapacity due to the surge in people surrendering at the border.
Border Patrol officials said temporary shelters would be utilized if the detention centers became too crowded, with plans of re-erecting the temporary tents seen in Donna during the last surge of unaccompanied minors in 2014. A timetable for when the shelters would go up was not readily available.
Last week, President Trump reportedly told Border Patrol agents in California that they should deny entry to anyone seeking to enter the country — stating that “we’re full,” and cannot take anymore people.
The reassignment of CBP officers has also led to delays at several ports of entry on the southwest border, with impacts being felt in Texas as well.
“Increased delays to arriving pedestrians, passenger vehicles and commercial trucks have already been experienced across the Southwest border and are expected to continue. Ports of entry in California and Arizona have closed some commercial lanes,” Perez said in the release. “CBP is attempting to mitigate these impacts, but those who cross the Southwest border should expect these delays to worsen as more resources are devoted to the humanitarian crisis.”
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar announced Wednesday he was meeting with Perez to discuss the delays at ports and potential solutions to the reassignment of CBP officers, according to a news release.
“I offered realistic strategies and resource solutions that will maintain CBP’s ability to process legitimate trade and travel, while addressing the surge in migrants at our southern border. It is absolutely essential that we bring back and retain CBP officers at our ports of entry in order to allow us to properly process the flow of trade at our POEs in an efficient manner,” Cuellar said in a news release. “I, along with other border members, look forward to discussing the strategies and resource solutions with the Deputy Commissioner. It is my hope that the Administration takes these sensible measure into serious consideration, returning CBP officers to our ports of entry.”
The Trump administration, ICE and CBP have continued to push the narrative of a “crisis on the border,” despite the fact that apprehensions along the U.S.-Mexico border continue to remain at record lows, far below the levels seen in the 1980s, 90s and early 2000s.
Year to date this fiscal year Border Patrol has recorded 361,087 apprehensions at the southwest border, which in on pace to surpass last year’s total of 396,579.
In fiscal year 2018 numbers were a slight increase over 2017’s fiscal year apprehensions of 303,916, according to the agency’s website.
The number of apprehensions in fiscal year 2018 is still nowhere near the apprehensions reported 20 years ago, when Border Patrol officials recorded 1,579,010 in fiscal year 1999. The next closest year in terms of apprehensions was in fiscal year 2007 when Border Patrol agents apprehended 876,704 immigrants, the agency’s website states.