Nearly 30% of migrants encountered at the US-Mexico border in March had previously tried to cross, the Biden administration says.
Overall, US Customs and Border Protection apprehended more than 172,000 people attempting to cross the US-Mexico border in March, a 71% increase from February, according to administration officials who briefed reporters with the agency’s official totals. That figure includes repeat crossers.
“The levels of flow pose a challenge to Border Patrol, but the high level of recidivism means that we can’t look at those flows as individual people. It’s often the same people coming back through,” an administration official said.
A public health order put in place under the Trump administration that allows border authorities to swiftly turn away migrants apprehended at the US southern border has contributed to the increase in repeat border crossers, since there’s little consequence to the person for attempting to return.
While the majority of encounters along the border were single adults who are being expelled under the public health order, CBP apprehended a record number of unaccompanied minors, with 18,890 in March, nearly double that of February.
Administration officials maintained that the majority of people encountered at the border in March were swiftly expelled. Single adults and families are subject to the pandemic-related policy, though some families have been admitted to the US as a result of limited capacity in Mexico.
The growing number of unaccompanied migrant children arriving to the US-Mexico border, however, continues to pose a challenge for officials. “We are moving in the right direction, but we know we have a lot of work ahead,” the official added. In recent weeks, the administration has announced at least 11 new sites to accommodate children and transfer them out of overcrowded Border Patrol facilities, which are akin to jail-like conditions.
The Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees a shelter network for migrant children, has been trying to speed up the release of children from US custody to a sponsor, like a parent or relative, in the United States, another administration official said.
“We have really been increasing our discharge rate and making sure that we’re unifying a child with the sponsors as soon as possible and reducing our length of care in terms of how long children are in facilities to meet this need,” the official said.
One of those steps include deploying personnel from US Citizenship and Immigration Services — an agency under the Department of Homeland Security — to work alongside HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement case managers.
As of Tuesday, there were 4,228 unaccompanied children in the custody of Customs and Border Protection, an agency not generally prepared to care for children for prolonged periods, and 16,045 children in HHS custody, according to the latest government data.
The latest figures indicate some level of progress as the administration tries to alleviate overcrowding in Border Patrol facilities and transfer kids to HHS. But encounters of children crossing the US-Mexico border alone are still high. On Tuesday, 747 unaccompanied children crossed the border.