A Border Patrol official estimated that more than 1 million illegal immigrants are expected to arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2021 as the White House grapples with how to find facilities and process them.
“We’re already starting to see some higher days of 6,000-plus apprehensions,” Raul Ortiz, deputy chief of the U.S. Border Patrol, told reporters. “So I fully expect our border patrol agents to encounter over a million people this year.”
Border Patrol apprehended approximately 100,000 illegal immigrants in February, which is the highest number since February 2019, Ortiz said. He noted that people try to illegally cross into the U.S. between April and June.
A facility in Donna, Texas, holds about 4,100 people, with many of them being unaccompanied children, Reuters reported. Border Patrol official Oscar Escamilla told Reuters that some 2,000 unaccompanied children have been held there for more than 72 hours, which is the legal limit.
“It’s out of my hands,” he said. “For whatever reason, they have fallen through the system or through the cracks.”
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Wednesday issued a statement criticizing human smuggling attempts into the United States.
“The inhumane way smugglers abuse children while profiting off parents’ desperation is criminal and morally reprehensible,” Mayorkas said. “Just this month, a young girl died by drowning, a six-month-old was thrown into the river, and two young children were dropped from a wall and left in the desert alone.”
“There can be no doubt that children are exceptionally vulnerable when placed in the hands of smugglers. There is grave risk they will be exploited and harmed. I applaud our heroic Border Patrol agents who have saved lives this week and every week, while putting their own lives at risk for the greater good of the country.”
It comes after a video released by a Border Patrol official in New Mexico showed human smugglers dropping two young girls over a 14-foot-tall border barrier before abandoning them.
The smugglers were seen via night-vision cameras leaving the children, aged 3 and 5, in the middle of the New Mexico desert “miles from the nearest residence,” said Border Patrol sector chief Gloria Chavez.
According to a news release from Border Patrol, the two girls were sisters from Ecuador. When agents came upon them, they rendered aid, officials said, before they were taken to a nearby hospital for further evaluation and were later “medically cleared.” The young girls were then put in a temporary holding facility.