WASHINGTON—Record-setting numbers of illegal immigrants during March saw Border Patrol facilities reach such overcapacity that agents were forced to release some migrants within hours of apprehending them—often dropping them at local bus stations.
Border Patrol apprehended 92,000 illegal aliens along the southwest border in March—consisting of 53,000 family units, 30,000 single adults, and 8,900 unaccompanied children.
A further 11,000 presented at ports of entry without documentation and were deemed inadmissible, bringing the March total to 103,000.
“I have never witnessed the conditions we are facing on the southwest border. This is not a manufactured crisis,” said Rodolfo Karisch, chief Border Patrol agent for the Rio Grande Valley sector, at a Senate hearing on April 9.
“On average, we apprehend 1,000 illegal border crossers per day—roughly the capacity of 17 commercial buses.”
The Rio Grande Valley Sector is the busiest in the country and shares 320 miles of the 2,000-mile international border with Mexico.
Karisch said word has spread that if an adult brings a child, they will be released into the United States. “Last week, we stopped a Honduran with a 1-year-old child. After questioning, we found out that the child wasn’t his,” he said.
Family unit apprehensions have increased by about 375 percent compared to the same time frame last fiscal year, according to Customs and Border Protection numbers. Three-quarters of those are from the Central American countries of Honduras, Guatemala, or El Salvador.
“Generally, we want to see our custody numbers around 4,500 across the southwest border,” said Brian Hastings, chief law enforcement operations directorate of Border Patrol. “However, two weeks ago, we saw our in-custody numbers up to critical levels of 13,500 in custody.”
Hastings said that since March 19, Border Patrol has released more than 11,000 non-criminal family members. He said biometrics are taken on the adults, a criminal background check is performed, and, if clean, they are provided with a travel document and served with a notice to appear in immigration court.
Border Patrol is taking an average of 63 illegal immigrants to hospitals per day for emergency medical treatment. Hastings said Border Patrol will pay out an estimated $12 million in salaries to agents who are watching over migrants in hospitals this fiscal year.
“In fiscal year 2019 to date, we’ve expended over $90 million on humanitarian support costs,” he said.
Typically, illegal immigration flows trend upward over the summer months.
“This poses significant increase to the risk of national security. We’re committed to addressing this humanitarian need, but the current situation is unsustainable for Border Patrol operations,” Hastings said. “We need an immigration system that allows the government to maintain custody of a family unit through an expeditious immigration proceeding.”