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More Families Crossing Southern US Border Triggers US Customs and Border Protection

U.S. Customs and Border Protection predicts that by March 30, it will have detained roughly 55,000 undocumented family units that crossed into the U.S.

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US southern border
FILE - A photo provided by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement shows mothers and their children standing in line at South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, Aug. 9, 2018. VOA

The number of families detained crossing the southern U.S. border without documentation continues to climb this month, according to new data released by the U.S. border agency.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection predicts that by March 30, it will have detained roughly 55,000 undocumented family units that crossed into the U.S. The number raises questions about what is triggering the increased arrivals.

The head of CBP, Commissioner Kevin McAleenan, repeated at a news conference Wednesday in El Paso that the “surge numbers are just overwhelming the [U.S.] system.”

While the U.S. has handled more border apprehensions than the current level, what has shifted in recent months is the demographics. More parents are traveling with young children, and with that change comes a different set of challenges, especially regarding detention facilities. CBP detained 76,103 people in February. Nearly half — 36,174 — were part of family units.

McAleenan blamed congressional inaction on immigration for the surge. However, motivators behind migrant flows are considered multifaceted. The motivators involve reasons people want to leave their home country (violence, persecution, economic insecurity, natural disaster); reasons people want to come to the U.S. (to join family, seek safety or asylum, flee abuse, earn more money); political and social factors; policies in the U.S. and Latin America; cartel activity and transportation; or good weather.

McAleenan said that additional CBP staff — about 750 people he called “humanitarian personnel” — would be temporarily assigned to help process detainees on the southern border. The agency plans to move those employees from border checkpoints to handle arrivals that happen away from the formal entry points. The diversion of personnel could slow down access through checkpoints as the Easter holiday approaches — a busy week for residents on both sides of the border to cross for family visits, a long weekend, or shopping.

“We’re doing everything we can to simply avoid a tragedy,” the commissioner told reporters.

While the U.S. has handled more border apprehensions than the current level, what has shifted in recent months is the demographics. More parents are traveling with young children, and with that change comes a different set of challenges, especially regarding detention facilities. CBP detained 76,103 people in February. Nearly half — 36,174 — were part of family units. McAleenan blamed congressional inaction on immigration for the surge. However, motivators behind migrant flows are considered multifaceted.

The motivators involve reasons people want to leave their home country (violence, persecution, economic insecurity, natural disaster); reasons people want to come to the U.S. (to join family, seek safety or asylum, flee abuse, earn more money); political and social factors; policies in the U.S. and Latin America; cartel activity and transportation; or good weather.

southern border, us
FILE – U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan speaks during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington, March 6, 2019. VOA

McAleenan said that additional CBP staff — about 750 people he called “humanitarian personnel” — would be temporarily assigned to help process detainees on the southern border. The agency plans to move those employees from border checkpoints to handle arrivals that happen away from the formal entry points. The diversion of personnel could slow down access through checkpoints as the Easter holiday approaches — a busy week for residents on both sides of the border to cross for family visits, a long weekend, or shopping.

“We’re doing everything we can to simply avoid a tragedy,” the commissioner told reporters.

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The deaths of two children in CBP custody at the end of 2018 prompted increased scrutiny of how the agency handles detainees’ medical issues.

The border news conference comes as Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen traveled to Miami to discuss the migrant issue with Mexican officials, before heading to Honduras to meet with representatives of the Northern Triangle.Nielsen is slated to sign a regional agreement with Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador addressing migration flows from Central America to the United States. The so-called “regional compact” would address “information sharing, law enforcement cooperation, and public messaging,” according to DHS. (VOA)

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Increase in Number of Asylum Seekers Once Sent Back over US Border

It was the latest attempt to ease an immigration system that officials say is at the breaking point

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migrants
Migrants from Central America wait inside an enclosure, where they are being held by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally and turning themselves in to request asylum, in El Paso, Texas, March 29, 2019. VOA

Border officials are aiming to more than quadruple the number of asylum seekers sent back over the southern border each day, a major expansion of a top government effort to address the swelling number of Central Americans arriving in the country, a Trump administration official said Saturday.

It was the latest attempt to ease an immigration system that officials say is at the breaking point. Hundreds of officers who usually screen cargo and vehicles at ports of entry were reassigned to help manage migrants.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen asked for volunteers from non-immigration agencies within her department, sent a letter to Congress late this past week requesting resources and broader authority to deport families faster, and met with Central American and Mexican officials.

The efforts are being made while President Donald Trump is doubling down on threats to shutter the U.S.-Mexico border entirely, a move that would have serious economic repercussions for both the U.S. and Mexico but wouldn’t stop migrants from crossing between ports. His administration also announced it was cutting aid to the Central American countries that are home to most of the migrants.

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A young boy walks near other migrants lying on the ground inside an enclosure, where they are being held by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally and turning themselves in to request asylum, in El Paso, Texas, March 29, 2019. VOA

Right now, about 60 asylum seekers a day are returned to Mexico at the San Ysidro, Calexico and El Paso ports to wait out their cases, the official said. They are allowed to return to the U.S. for court dates. The plan was announced Jan. 29, partially to deter false claimants from coming across the border. With a backlog of more than 700,000 immigration cases, asylum seekers can wait years for their cases to progress, and officials say some people game the system in order to live in the U.S.

300 per day

Officials hope to have as many as 300 people returned per day by the end of the week, focusing particularly on those who come in between ports of entry, said the official, who had knowledge of the plans but was unauthorized to speak publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

But the process so far has gone slowly, and such a sizable increase may be difficult to achieve. The plan has already been marred by confusion, scheduling glitches and an inability by some attorneys to reach their clients. In San Ysidro alone, Mexico had been prepared to accept up to 120 asylum seekers per week, but for the first six weeks only 40 people per week were returned.

asylum seekers
FILE – Two men, both of Honduras, walk with attorneys as they cross into the United States to begin their asylum cases, March 19, 2019, in Tijuana, Mexico. VOA

Plus, U.S. officials must check to see whether asylum seekers have any felony convictions and notify Mexico at least 12 hours before they are returned. Those who cross illegally must have come as single adults, though the administration is in talks with the Mexican government to include families. Children are not returned.

Homeland Security officials have been grappling with a growing number of Central American children and families coming over the border. Arrests soared in February to a 12-year-high and more than half of those stopped arrived as families, many of them asylum seekers who generally turn themselves in instead of trying to elude capture. Guatemala and Honduras have replaced Mexico as the top countries, a remarkable shift from only a few years ago. Migrants from Central America cannot be easily deported, unlike people crossing from Mexico.

Mexico pledges help

Mexico has been treading lightly on the subject. After Trump lashed out, saying Mexico and the Central American nations were “doing nothing” about illegal immigration, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said his country would do everything it could to help to maintain a “very respectful relationship” with the U.S. government and Trump.

asylum
Migrants from Central America wait in a line for food inside an enclosure, where they are being held by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally and turning themselves in to request asylum, in El Paso, Texas, March 29, 2019. VOA

Meanwhile, Nielsen sent a letter to the heads of other agencies within her 240,000-person department, asking for volunteers to help with border duties. And she wrote to Congress asking for more temporary facilities to process people, more detention space, and the ability to detain families indefinitely and to deport unaccompanied minors from Central America. While children from Mexico can be returned over the border, laws prohibit deportation to other countries.

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Democratic congressional leaders expressed deep concern, saying the administration wanted to revive “horrific” and “immoral” plans, noting its failed hard-line border policies have created “senseless heartbreak and horror.”

“Democrats reject any effort to let the administration deport little children, and we reject all anti-immigrant and anti-family attacks from this president,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. (VOA)