The average number of illegal aliens attempting to cross into the United States from Mexico on a daily basis during the past month reached a 13-year-high, NBC News reported, citing Customs and Border Protection data.
The surge has surpassed daily averages not seen since fiscal year 2006, bringing detention centers to maximum capacity. As a result, the Department of Homeland Security is negotiating with the Department of Defense to handle the overflow on military bases. The Department of Health and Human Services asked the Pentagon to add bed space for up to 5,000 children, but the Pentagon has not yet approved the request.
Border Patrol agents arrested 3,974 illegal aliens on March 19, the most arrests in a single day since President Donald Trump took office. The number of arrests surpassed 3,595 on six days in February, topping the daily average of 3,530 in the fiscal year 2006. Over the past six weeks, DHS broke the record for the highest number of arrests during the Trump administration seven times, a DHS official told NBC News.
Officials are working on a plan to build facilities on land held by the Department of Defense to house the detained illegal aliens and to use military personnel and funds to transport illegal aliens in need of medical transport.
The president has deployed thousands of troops to the border to address the crisis there, but Defense officials are wary of having military personnel come in contact with illegal aliens, since such actions may be in violation of the Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibits the military from enforcing domestic law.
The mass of illegal aliens crossing the border is made up largely of families. On March 12, Border Patrol agents apprehended 2,022 illegal aliens who arrived as families out of a total 3,834 illegal aliens apprehended that day.
The Department of Homeland security is prohibited by a federal court settlement from holding children in custody for longer than 20 days, even if they are arrested with their family. DHS released more than 100,000 illegal aliens who arrived as families into the interior of the United States so far this year.
With additional land from the Defense Department, DHS would be able to detain illegal aliens rather than releasing them. Pentagon flagged the Fort Bliss and Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas as potential locations, but there has been no progress to date on constructing facilities.
The surge in crossings comes on the heels of Trump’s declaration of emergency on the southwest border. The president used the declaration and other executive powers to shift additional funds toward border wall construction. In combination with the funds approved for wall construction by Congress, the White House has secured $8.1 billion for border wall construction.
The Pentagon authorized $1 billion for border wall construction on March 25. The funds are designated toward the construction of 57 miles of fencing in the Yuma and El Paso border sectors. In El Paso, border crossings surged by 500 percent this year. Border Patrol agents arrested more than 500 illegal aliens in the span of 5 minutes on March 19.
Democrats in Congress argue there is no emergency on the border with Mexico. Joined by a small group of Republicans, the Democrats voted to annul Trump’s emergency declaration earlier this month, but the president vetoed the measure. The House of Representatives attempted to override the veto on March 26 but failed to secure enough votes.
Petr Svab contributed to this report.