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WASHINGTON – The number of migrant encounters at the United States southern border increased 71% since February, new numbers show, as the Biden administration grapples with how to handle the thousands of people, many unaccompanied children, seeking to enter the U.S. along the Mexico border.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection encountered more than 172,000 people attempting to enter the United States along the southwest border in March – up from the 100,441 in February, according to Biden administration officials' analysis of the numbers, which were released Thursday.
CBP also encountered 18,890 unaccompanied children from Central America, double the number of children encountered in February. According to CBP statistics, 9,297 unaccompanied or single minors were encountered in February.
An increasing number of migrants have been making their way to the border for months as the White House has struggled to house them and find them family or sponsors. Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have called the situation at the border a “crisis,” and criticized President Joe Biden's handling of the situation.
“Nobody should have the expectation this is going to be solved overnight,” an administration official told reporters Wednesday when discussing the latest apprehension statistics.
In March, 103,900 people were expelled by CBP under Title 42, which allows Customs and Border Protection to expel undocumented migrants to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in holding facilities. Administration officials said that number represented 60% of total encounters for March, and that 28% of the individuals were previously expelled under Title 42.
Due to Title 42, individuals are expelled to Mexico but a portion attempt to cross back into the United States, despite the policy, and are again expelled from the country due to Title 42.
Although many migrants are being turned away due to Title 42, the Biden administration has said it will accept children as it would be too dangerous to turn them away. Some families are being accepted into the United States because Mexico is not accepting some families with young children.
Administration officials said some families are being processed because some areas of Mexico, specifically the state of Tamaulipas that borders Texas, has limited capacity to take families with children under 6. In addition, an administration official said the agreement to expel migrants into Mexico covers only migrants coming from the Northern Triangle, including El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico, so migrants from other countries cannot be expelled into Mexico, although they can still be expelled under Title 42.
Due to the increased number of migrant children, CBP's jaillike facilities have become overcrowded. The Biden administration has opened new Department of Health and Human Services facilities to help move the children out of CBP custody quickly while they vet family or sponsors, a process that could take weeks.
There were 17,345 families expelled under Title 42, the data said. However, 35,559 family units were processed under Title 8, meaning they violated immigration law by entering the country between ports of entry but can make a credible fear claim to gain asylum.
Of the migrants who were apprehend at the U.S.-Mexico border, only 4,136 came across through ports of entry, while 168,195 were apprehended by Border Patrol between the ports of entry.
Preliminary numbers of the apprehensions were first reported by the Washington Post.
As a result of the surge, Biden has appointed Vice President Kamala Harris to work with Northern Triangle countries and Mexico to help stem migration coming from Central America.
HHS has opened several new temporary influx facilities over the past several weeks to help move children out of CBP custody. Administration officials said there is now a 30-day average of 507 children being transferred out of CBP custody as of the end of March, an increase from the previous average of 276.
Last month, during a press briefing, Biden attributed the increase of migrants as part of a cyclical rise of migrants who come to the United States in early spring.
However, this year’s number of migrants coming to the United States is much higher than in 2019, when the country saw its last surge.
According to CBP statistics, 103,731 migrants were encountered in March 2019, almost 70,000 less than the number of migrants encountered by CBP officials last month. In March 2020, that number was 34,460, a low number attributed to the pandemic.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said last month in a statement that, “We are on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years.”
“This is not new,” Mayorkas continued in his statement. “We have experienced migration surges before – in 2019, 2014, and before then as well.”
Reach Rebecca Morin on Twitter @RebeccaMorin_