The U.S.-Mexico border continues to break records, and they’re all bad.
Authorities reported another record in May for the number of migrant families nabbed at the border, with more than 100,000 parents and children either apprehended by the Border Patrol or encountered trying to enter through border crossings without permission.
Those grim numbers have fueled what is already a record number of illegal immigrants held in custody and a record number of people who have been released into American communities with little hope of rousting them for deportation later.
“We are in a full-blown emergency, and I cannot say this stronger: The system is broken,” John Sanders, acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, said as he detailed the depths of the border crisis for reporters.
Armed with those numbers, Vice President Mike Pence met with Mexico’s foreign minister to demand that his country do a better job of stopping migrants from reaching the U.S. border in the first place.
At stake is President Trump’s threat to slap a 5% tariff on Mexican imports next week and to increase the rate monthly until it reaches 25%.
Mr. Trump, traveling in Europe, said in a Twitter post that the discussions were going well but there was “not nearly enough” progress from Mexico.
“Talks with Mexico will resume tomorrow with the understanding that, if no agreement is reached, Tariffs at the 5% level will begin on Monday, with monthly increases as per schedule,” the president said. “The higher the Tariffs go, the higher the number of companies that will move back to the USA!”
Marcelo Ebrard went into the meeting with optimism. He posted a Twitter message that said he believed there was an “80/20” chance of reaching a deal. He didn’t say what he would be offering, but news reports out of Mexico said he would suggest stepped-up patrols on Mexico’s southern border, which Central American migrants generally pass through en route to the U.S.
American officials say that is not likely to be good enough for Mr. Trump, who wants concrete improvements. Even though Mexico has increased its apprehensions at its own border, the ratio is still only about 1 in 5 people. With a flow of perhaps 5,000 a day crossing, that leaves thousands who are making the journey.
CBP said Monday, the latest day for which the government had statistics, that 4,100 unauthorized migrants had reached the U.S.-Mexico border.
The numbers were worse 20 years ago, when the border could average 7,000 migrants a day. But authorities said the current flow is much worse because of the demographics. Almost all of the migrants 20 years ago were single adults from Mexico, and they could be sent back in a matter of hours.
Now, the flow consists mostly of children and families from Central America, who under current laws and policy are released into the U.S.
CBP said that over the past 2½ months it has released some 75,000 people into communities. That’s in addition to nearly 200,000 family members released by ICE so far this fiscal year.
Even at that rate, border authorities say, they are overwhelmed and simply cannot process people fast enough to make space for new arrivals.
As of Wednesday, CBP had 19,293 in custody. The agency said it considers 6,000 people, less than one-third of that number, a “crisis” in capacity.
The Department of Homeland Security said it will run out of money soon at the rate things are going. The Health and Human Services Department, which under the law is required to take custody of the unaccompanied migrant children, has already hit that point.
The Washington Post reported that the agency is cutting back on paying for English classes, soccer playing time and legal assistance for the children, who are housed at government-contracted shelters that operate somewhat like summer camps.
Those shelters are at capacity, leaving children stacked up at CBP facilities that were never designed for them.
Border Patrol agents now spend up to 60% of their time babysitting migrant children and families, providing food, transporting them between facilities or doing hospital watch for medical care.
Meanwhile, officers have been taken from the border crossings to help out, leading to longer lines for those trying to enter the U.S. Lines at peak times are 40 minutes longer for regular traffic and 25 minutes longer for commercial traffic, CBP said.
All told, border authorities found 144,278 unauthorized migrants at the border last month — either arrested by Border Patrol agents or encountered by officers at the legal crossings. That is up from about 52,000 the same month in 2018 and up from fewer than 20,000 in May 2017.
Of those caught, more than 55,000 were children — including nearly 12,000 who came without parents.
The Trump administration has pleaded with Congress for $4.5 billion in emergency funding, most of it intended to go to better care for the children and families. Republicans said they tried to approve the money as part of a disaster relief bill that cleared Congress on Monday. Democrats refused, they said.
But a top Democrat on Wednesday blamed Republicans.
“Congressional Republicans need to stop holding up the emergency supplemental negotiations and agree to necessary and reasonable protections to ensure the health and safety of the thousands of unaccompanied children,” said Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro of Connecticut, chair of the House subcommittee that oversees HHS funding.
Democrats also blamed Mr. Trump for the record illegal immigration in May.
“These numbers are yet another sign that the Trump administration’s border security and immigration policies are abject failures,” said Rep. Bennie G. Thompson of Mississippi, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee. He said it’s up to Mr. Trump to offer “workable solutions.”
The administration says it has done that.
Border Patrol agents say the chief factor fueling the surge of families is a court-imposed policy that requires families to be released from custody after 20 days — less than half the time it takes to complete their cases.
Once released, they go to the back of the line, meaning it could be three years or more before they have their court hearings. In one recent pilot program, 90% didn’t bother to show up for their hearings, making them absconders from their deportations.
Of the unauthorized immigrant families who arrived in 2017, 98% of them are still here, Homeland Security says.
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