EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Apprehensions or “encounters” with unauthorized migrants topped the 100,000-mark in February – the first time this has happened since June of 2019, U.S. Customs and Border Protection data shows.
More than 72,000 of those migrants were expelled to Mexico in a very short period under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Title 42 order, which means to prevent cross-border spread of COVID-19.
“First of all, let’s be clear, the border is not open,” said Troy Miller, the Biden administration’s current acting CBP commissioner. “We are building an orderly immigration system in a way that protects public health during the global COVID pandemic. We are moving as fast as we can to rebuild […] but this is going to take time. In the meantime, the border is not open. Do not believe the human smugglers who will try to tell you otherwise.”
That includes families who come in with children. Despite confirmed reports of family units being released from CBP custody on the American side of the border, Miller said that “families continue to be returned to Mexico under Title 42.”
In a Wednesday afternoon call with reporters, Miller said unauthorized migration has been creeping up since last April, despite the pandemic.
He said “push factors” such as ongoing violence, food insecurity, poverty, unemployment and other economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic – as well as a pair of hurricanes that struck Central America late last year – have been fueling the increase.
Millers said CBP continues rolling back the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program and that 1,500 asylum seekers from all over the world have been readmitted from Mexico so far.
Providing for detained families, unaccompanied minors
Last month, CBP stopped 100,441 persons attempting an illegal entry along the Southwest border. That represents a 28 percent increase over January 2021. Encounters with so-called family units — one or more adults with one or more children — have increased 164%, while 29,792 unaccompanied minors have been taken for processing so far this fiscal year. Of the latter, 26,850 fall in the 13 through 17 age range, while almost 3,000 were under 12.
CBP officials say their goal is to route the unaccompanied minors to Health and Human Services or Office of Refugee Resettlement custody as soon as feasible.
“Border Patrol stations are not places for children and we do everything in our power to move them over as quickly as we can. This is a new approach; everybody’s focus is moving as quickly as possible. Even a few hours is more that we want once apprehended,” said a senior CBP official who participated in the call with Miller.
Those who do stay at detention facilities are given medical screenings, on-site treatment for minor problems such as lice and routed to medical professionals if warranted by other health conditions.
“We do welfare checks regularly because we’re mandated to do regular checks. We have infant formula available 24-7, provide showers at least every 48 hours, cots, blankets and (COVID-19 supplies) like masks,” the senior official said.
Drug seizures at the border are on the rise
Miller said drug seizures are up 50% nationwide from January 2021 fueled by an increase in methamphetamine and heroin trafficking. Fentanyl seizures were down 17% in February.
“Despite (that) drop, we are seeing 360% higher fentanyl than last year. By this time in 2020 we had intercepted 4,776 pounds; we already surpassed that in 2021 with nearly 5,000 pounds,” he said.