The chief of U.S. Customs and Border Protection warned the surge of Central American migrants illegally crossing the U.S. southern border has pushed the country’s immigration system to its breaking point.
Commissioner Kevin McAleenan made the comments during a visit to El Paso.
Border Patrol officials in the El Paso sector reported agents have been taking nearly 600 migrants a day into custody over the past month. To date this fiscal year, the Far West Texas sector has seen the greatest increase in family apprehensions of any other sector — up nearly 1700 percent compared to the same period last year.
“The increase in family units is a direct response to the vulnerabilities in our legal framework,” he said, “where migrants and smugglers know that they will be released and allowed to stay in the U.S. indefinitely pending immigration proceedings that could be many years out.”
CBP officials anticipate 55,000 families, including 40,000 children, will enter the immigration process this month.
McAleenan reported that some U.S. border patrol highway checkpoints were recently closed and 750 agents were reassigned to help immigration officials with the rise of migrants, who are mostly from Honduras and Guatemala.
He called for immediate congressional action, on behalf of CBP agents and vulnerable migrants in U.S. custody, “and to reinstate integrity into our immigration system.”
Homeland Security officials at the Border Security Expo in San Antonio also expressed concern about the increasing flow of unauthorized migrants at the southern border.
NPR’s John Burnett reported that CBP officials worry that warmer spring weather may bring up to 150,000 Central American migrants to the border — numbers not seen in two decades. Burnett added that some Border Patrol holding cells exceed 300 percent overcapacity. One official at the Expo warned that if the situation does not improve, more migrants may die of illness.
McAleenan said he shared those health concerns. He said some of the migrants have the flu or chicken pox, or experience seizures.
“We are doing everything can to simply avoid a tragedy in a CBP facility,” he said, “but with these numbers, with the types of illnesses we’ve been seeing, I fear it’s just a matter of time.”
Fernando Ortiz Jr. contributed to this report.