Arrests of families crossing into the U.S. illegally in the past five months hit a record, prompting the chief of Customs and Border Protection to say the system is at “the breaking point.”
From October through February, border agents arrested 136,150 people traveling in families for crossing the border illegally. The prior record for a 12-month period was 107,212, during the fiscal year that ended in September.
More than 66,400 people were arrested in February, making it the busiest month since President Trump took office and the busiest February since 2008.
The numbers were the sharpest evidence yet that, despite Mr. Trump’s efforts to crack down on illegal immigration, the flow of migrants is only growing.
“This situation is not sustainable,” Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said while releasing the numbers Tuesday. “The system is well beyond capacity and remains at the breaking point.”
On Tuesday afternoon, the White House highlighted the new numbers, saying they “reflect an ever-worsening crisis on our southern border.”
Mr. McAleenan said his agency was taking steps to establish a center near El Paso, Texas, specifically to process families and children, and in particular, to conduct medical assessments.
After the deaths of two migrant children in Border Patrol custody, Customs and Border Protection stepped up medical screenings. They also announced sweeping changes including more rigorous interviews as migrants come into the system.
The volume of families, most of whom voluntarily turn themselves in, to law enforcement to seek asylum, has in recent months overwhelmed government facilities intended to hold single adults for a few hours at a time. Some families spend days in cinder-block cells with no beds or showers while waiting to be processed by immigration officials. Two children died last year in the government’s custody after crossing the border with a parent.
While families, along with a relatively small number of unaccompanied children, now make up 60% of arrests at the border, total numbers are rising as well. The Border Patrol made 267,900 arrests between October, the start of the federal fiscal year, and February, compared with 136,209 over the same period a year earlier.