WASHINGTON—Illegal border crossings spiked ever higher in February with more than 66,000 apprehensions, according to Customs and Border Protection data. In January, the number was almost 48,000.
So far this fiscal year, Border Patrol has apprehended almost 268,000 people at the southwest border. The numbers are on target to reach beyond 640,000 for the fiscal year.
Although the numbers are not as high as the 2005 surge, when around 1.5 million people were apprehended, the demographics of the current border crossers are markedly more complicated, said Border Patrol chief of operations Brian Hastings on March 5.
He said historically 70 to 90 percent of Border Patrol arrests were Mexican nationals, who could be quickly returned to Mexico. Now, however, 70 percent of all apprehensions are from Guatemala, El Salvador, or Honduras.
Under current laws, Border Patrol cannot return minors to their home country unless they are Mexican or Canadian (contiguous countries).
And members of family units are claiming asylum, which means they are set free into the United States to be processed through the immigration court system. Around 89 percent of Central Americans pass an initial credible fear screening, which allows them to be released into the country. However, only 9 percent are eventually granted asylum through immigration courts.
“So without a consequence, without being able to deliver a consequence to these individuals for illegally crossing our borders, the Border Patrol has no reason to expect that this trend will decrease. In fact, we believe it will increase,” Hastings said.
Hastings said the number of family units apprehended exceeded single adult males for the first time in history in October 2018. And in February, family units and unaccompanied children accounted for 65 percent of all Border Patrol apprehensions.
Hastings said word has quickly spread in Central America that adults and children will not be detained during their immigration proceedings.
“If you bring a child, you’ll be successful,” he said.
Over the past 10 months, officials have discovered almost 2,400 fraudulent family claims, he said.
“Of those fraudulent claims, some are folks who have claimed that they’re under 18 and are not. Others have actually been fraudulent familial claims,” Hastings said.
Many of the illegal immigrants require medical care, with Border Patrol sending at least 55 per day to local hospitals.
And Mexican cartels are using the new phenomenon of large groups of 100-plus asylum seekers to distract Border Patrol while they sneak in their contraband at nearby, unpatrolled locations.