Speaking to a Latin America and Caribbean business association in Florida, McAleenan said all of the more than 1,800 family members who crossed the border Monday arrived unlawfully, between official ports of entry.
“That’s the highest total we have on record,” said a CBP official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to share enforcement data that has not been publicly released.
Family groups consisting of at least one parent and one child now account for the majority of those taken into custody by U.S. authorities along the border, a trend driven by large groups of Guatemalan migrants who have been showing up at remote border crossings to seek out the nearest U.S. agents.
After surrendering to authorities, the families are driven to Border Patrol stations, where they typically state a fear of deportation and a desire to seek asylum in the United States. In most cases, the families are released after a few days and assigned a court date, often with a monitoring band fitted to parents’ ankles.
Last month, an unprecedented 59 percent of all border apprehensions were composed of migrants traveling in family groups, a trend that has accelerated in recent months, according to the latest CBP data. Apprehensions of migrant family members soared 290 percent through the first four months of the government’s 2019 fiscal year, relative to the same period last year, figures show.
The agency saw a lull in illegal crossings around the holidays, and apprehensions remained low through the first part of January. But since then border crossings by family groups have surged , leaving U.S. agents overwhelmed and struggling to cope with the needs of children that sometimes arrive sick and in need of emergency medical care.
In December, two Guatemalan children died after being taken into CBP custody in the El Paso sector, prompting Homeland Security officials to declare a humanitarian crisis at the border. Autopsy reports on the children have yet to be made public.
Trump attempted to deter Central American families last year with a “zero tolerance” prosecution initiative that led to the separation of at least 2,500 children from their parents. The policy was scrapped after stirring a storm of criticism and litigation.
Homeland Security officials say the Central American families will continue to arrive in large numbers unless they are granted new administrative and legal tools to detain and deport those who don’t qualify for asylum protections, including children.