A debate is raging over whether these is an emergency at the U.S. Mexico border, but according to testimony from top officials of the Border Patrol, the U.S. is facing a border security and humanitarian crisis.
"76,000 total apprehensions and inadmissible arrivals in a four week month in February," Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said. "That is the highest number of encounters in any February in the last 12 years."
He says the biggest increases are in the El Paso sector, which has seen a 434% increase in apprehensions in the city to handle the flow of families.
Brian Hastings of the Border Patrol said they have apprehended more families in five months than all of last year.
"We are committed to addressing the humanitarian need, but the current situation is unsustainable for Border Patrol operations," he said.
He said the situation along the border is at the 'breaking point.'
McAleenan says people in Central America are well aware of what he called the 'weak point' in U.S. border security, and that is that if you try to enter the U.S. illegally and do so with children in tow, you stand a much better chance of simply being released on your promise to appear for an asylum hearing.
Some 36,000 'family units' were apprehended along the border in January, that is up from fewer than 10,000, as the migrant smugglers who profit from this border chaos have becoming well aware of U.S. policy. Officials say sometimes the migrant smugglers will provide for adults attempting to enter the U.S. with a trafficked child they can claim is part of their 'family' to smooth entry into the U.S.
This comes at a time when immigration from Mexico is actually down. Most of the refugees attempting to enter the U.S. today are from the infamous 'Northern Triangle' of Central America, although more are coming from Africa and South Asia.
More than 50,000 adults are currently in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody, the largest number ever.
A singificant problem, according to McAleenan, is 'convoys' of illegal immigrants who simply enter the U.S. and surrender to authorities, claiming a right to asylum, something else which is also encouraged by immigrant smuggling cartels.
The numbers of people trying to sneak into the U.S. illegally, while up sharply, is still well below the numbers seen in the 1990s, and 2000s, but the shape of immigration has changed drastically. In the 1990s, it was mainly single men from Mexico, who could be easily handled and quickly deported. Today it is families from Central America and beyond, which additional requirements for housing children and babies, processing asylum request, and making arrangements to return people to homes a thousand or more miles away.