Immigration authorities are expressing alarm about the growing number of migrants crossing the Southern border.
Federal agents apprehended more than 4,000 migrants crossing the border on each of two days this week — the highest daily total recorded in 15 years, according to a senior official with Customs and Border Protection.
“The breaking point has arrived,” said CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan in a news conference Wednesday in El Paso, Texas.
“CBP is facing an unprecedented humanitarian and border security crisis all along our Southwest border — and nowhere has that crisis manifested more acutely than here in El Paso,” McAleenan said.
As the weather warms up, immigration authorities warn that the flow of migrants crossing will continue to grow. Federal agents are on pace to apprehend or encounter more than 100,000 migrants in March — the largest monthly total in more than a decade.
CBP will reluctantly begin releasing more migrant families with a notice to appear in immigration court, McAleenan said, instead of first handing them over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for processing and detention.
CBP already had begun releasing some recently apprehended migrants to the streets of cities in the Rio Grande Valley. Senior border officials say they are prepared to extend that practice to other cities such as San Diego; Yuma, Ariz.; and Del Rio and El Paso, Texas.
The majority of these migrants are families and children fleeing violence and poverty in Central America. McAleenan says they are straining the resources of Border Patrol facilities, which were designed primarily for single men and are far beyond their official capacity.
“We are doing everything we can to simply avoid a tragedy,” McAleenan said. “But with these numbers, with the types of illnesses we’re seeing at the border, I fear that it’s just a matter of time.”
CBP has stepped up medical care for migrants since two children died in custody in December. But McAleenan says efforts to provide that medical attention have diverted Border Patrol agents from their security duties. “Our expanded medical checks and concerted efforts are saving lives,” McAleenan said. “But they have a high cost to our enforcement mission.”
In response, McAleenan says CBP is redirecting 750 blue-uniformed agents who work at ports of entry to help the Border Patrol with the care and custody of migrants.McAleenan warned that could lead to longer wait times at ports of entry on the U.S.-Mexico border but said that “this is required to help us manage this operational crisis.”