Illegal crossings along the U.S. southern border remained at decades-high levels last month despite the scorching summer heat, as authorities detained 208,887 migrants in August, according to enforcement data released Wednesday by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
When border arrests rose sharply this spring, the president said the increase was consistent with normal seasonal patterns. But crossings have continued to soar regardless of the extreme weather, and U.S. border authorities have struggled to cope with the health, humanitarian and security challenges of the historic influx, particularly as families and children account for a growing share of crossings.
“The men and women at CBP continue to step up to meet the demands of high numbers of encounters at our southern border,” acting commissioner Troy Miller said in a statement.
The Biden administration has continued to rely on a provision of the U.S. public health code known as Title 42 to rapidly “expel” some border crossers without holding them in custody, a practice designed to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Authorities say it has resulted in higher levels of repeat crossing attempts as some migrants try again and again to evade capture.
In August, 25 percent of the migrants taken into U.S. custody “had at least one prior encounter in the previous 12 months,” compared with an average rate of 14 percent during previous years, the agency said.
The latest CBP data shows the percentage of migrants returned to Mexico under Title 42 has continued to decline, and in August, only 44 percent of those taken into custody were processed under that authority.
Of the 86,487 family unit members who were detained in August, just 19 percent were sent back under Title 42, the data show. Most are released into the United States and allowed to make humanitarian claims under U.S. law.
The Biden administration does not apply the expulsion policy to unaccompanied minors, who have arrived in record numbers this year. Last month, 18,847 teens and children crossed the border alone, 1 percent lower than July.
In response to the latest CBP figures, Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio), the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said he looked forward to questioning Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas during a hearing next Tuesday.
“Once again, CBP operational statistics show that we are seeing the worst unlawful migration crisis in more than twenty years,” Portman said in a statement. “I urge the Biden administration to take action because the migrant crisis is a direct result of its decision to dismantle the previous administration’s policies with no consideration of the historic influx it would incite.”
Biden officials have started returning some families to Central America using fast-track deportation flights, while transporting others on “expulsion flights” to southern Mexico. From there migrants are typically loaded onto buses by Mexican authorities and whisked back to Central America.