August witnessed record numbers of migrant families crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, as revealed by preliminary data acquired by The Washington Post.
This surge has disrupted the Biden administration’s endeavors to deter parents from entering the U.S. illegally with their children, potentially thrusting immigration back into the limelight for the upcoming presidential race.
“The U.S. Border Patrol arrested at least 91,000 migrants who crossed as part of a family group in August,” The Washington Post reported. This number surpasses the previous record of 84,486 set in May 2019 during the Trump administration. Families constituted the most significant demographic group crossing the border in August, outnumbering single adults for the first time since President Biden assumed office.
Border apprehensions have surged by over 30% for two consecutive months. This rise followed a sharp decline in May and June as the Biden administration introduced new border restrictions and entry opportunities. Arrests by the Border Patrol along the Mexico border in August totaled over 177,000, an increase from 132,652 in July and 99,539 in June.
Erin Heeter, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security, emphasized the administration’s efforts to curb illegal entries by expanding lawful options and imposing stricter penalties.
“Since May, the U.S. is seeing ebbs and flows of migrants arriving fueled by seasonal trends and the efforts of smugglers to use disinformation to prey on vulnerable migrants and encourage migration,” Heeter said.
Family groups have consistently posed challenges for U.S. immigration enforcement for over a decade. Most migrants in this category, once detained by Border Patrol agents, are swiftly released. They are permitted to live and work in the U.S. while their humanitarian claims are under review. The backlogged U.S. immigration courts often take several years to reach a decision, and the process seldom culminates in deportation, as federal data indicates.
The recent surge during the peak summer heat underscores the cyclical nature of U.S. immigration enforcement. The Department of Homeland Security, during Trump’s tenure, grappled with a similar influx of families crossing from Mexico. For a brief period, children were separated from their parents as a deterrent measure.
Trump officials managed to reduce family crossings by aggressively expanding the “Remain in Mexico” program. This program sent thousands of asylum seekers back across the border to await their claims’ adjudication in U.S. courts under often harsh conditions.
However, when the pandemic struck in early 2020, Trump utilized a provision of Title 42, the U.S. public health code, to rapidly expel border-crossers. Between March 2020 and May 2023, U.S. Customs and Border Protection executed three million such expulsions.
President Biden, who promised a more humane approach to migrants during his campaign, halted the Remain in Mexico program and shut down three family detention centers operated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He replaced the pandemic policy with new measures, allowing a significant number of migrants to enter the U.S. legally each month. However, these measures made it more challenging for those who crossed illegally to be released after making an asylum claim.
The latest data from Customs and Border Protection indicates that over 50,000 migrants were processed in August at U.S. border crossings. The Biden administration now permits up to 1,450 individuals per day to schedule an appointment to enter the U.S. legally using a mobile app. Consequently, the total number of migrants encountered by CBP at the southern border in August reached approximately 230,000, marking the highest one-month total for the year.
A separate Biden initiative accepts roughly 30,000 applicants monthly from countries like Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela. These individuals can live and work in the U.S. for two years, provided they have a financial sponsor and pass background checks. This program, known as parole, allows beneficiaries to fly to the U.S. rather than crossing at the border.
Illegal crossings by migrants from parole-eligible countries have seen a sharp decline. However, CBP records indicate a significant increase in migration from countries like Guatemala, Honduras, Ecuador, Peru and various nations in Asia and Africa during the summer.
The Biden administration has expanded facilities with medical staff and social workers to care for children. Yet, many families still first encounter traditional CBP stations, which have bleak detention cells designed for short-term holding of adults.
The Biden administration’s approach to deportation of families has been inconsistent. While Biden pledged to reunite families separated by Trump and protect undocumented families already in the U.S., officials have expressed concerns that failing to deport families who recently crossed the border might overwhelm Border Patrol facilities.
The Biden administration has also introduced enforcement programs targeting families. One such program, the Family Expedited Removal Management program, or FERM, places some heads of households under GPS monitoring and into a fast-track deportation process. “FERM is one element of DHS’s operations to enforce U.S. immigration law and to remove individuals and families without a legal basis to stay in the country,” DHS’s Heeter said.
Since May, DHS has removed or returned more than 200,000 recently arrived migrants, Heeter noted. This number includes the 17,000 who entered the U.S. as part of a family group.
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