The number of illegal immigrant encounters at the southern border has exploded — rising more than 71 percent since February — as the Biden administration scrambles to respond to the dramatic increase, according to new figures released Thursday by Customs and Border Protection.
Border Patrol agents encountered more than 172,000 people trying to enter the US illegally along the border in March, up from the 100,441 who tried to cross in February, the agency said.
The Border Patrol has already had more than 569,800 encounters this year, a 24 percent jump from the total encounters in Fiscal Year 2020 and a 34 percent increase from the same time frame during Fiscal Year 2019.
The federal agency also said that agents encountered 18,890 unaccompanied children from Central America, doubling February’s number of 9,297 minors.
CBP said the children make up the largest demographic of individuals in federal detention facilities – even though they make up less than 11 percent of the encounters.
The release noted that the children are quickly moved to Department of Health and Human Services housing units as bed capacity has expanded, but the 30-day average of children transferred has increased to 507 at the end of March from 276 at the end of February.
“CBP has experienced an increase in encounters and arrests. This is not new. Encounters have continued to increase since April 2020, and our past experiences have helped us be better prepared for the challenges we face this year,” said CBP Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Commissioner Troy Miller in a statement.
“We are committed to balancing the need to maintain border security, care for those in our custody, and keep the American people and our workforce safe,” Miller said.
The release listed violence, natural disasters, food insecurity and poverty in Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries of Central America as the reasons why migrants set out on the dangerous journey to the US.
The Biden administration has scrambled to respond to the near record influx of minor’s illegally crossing the border, building temporary units to house them and opening up military bases and convention centers to accommodate them.
The CBP said most of the encounters involved single adults, and added that agents expelled 103,900 individuals in March under Title 42 authority, which allows for the expulsion of migrants to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the centers.
Sixty percent of the total encounters for the month involved Title 42, and 28 percent were individuals who had been expelled previously under Title 42.
The CBP also said agents have seen a return of encounters with large groups of migrants, especially in the Rio Grande river valley in Texas.
Groups of 100 or more people “dropped dramatically” during the pandemic – from 216 in Fiscal Year 2019 to 10 in Fiscal Year 2020.
But the CBP recorded 49 such encounters in Fiscal Year 2021, totaling more than 4,700 individuals.