He said that this is a “negative outcome” but that it is “the only current option we have” because of overcrowding at detention facilities as Central Americans stream to the border knowing they will be able to gain entry with asylum claims.
The number of migrant families coming to the border has reached new highs month after month, a trend that dramatically accelerated after President Trump announced parents and children would no longer be separated, reversing course on his “zero tolerance” crackdown.
McAleenan said the agency detained more than 4,100 migrants Tuesday, the highest one-day total at the border in more than a decade, and agency projections have border apprehensions on pace to exceed 100,000 this month — an increase of more than 30 percent. By comparison, at the height of the last border crisis, in May 2014, agents apprehended more than 68,800 migrants that month.
The massive influx of families seeking asylum has strained almost every aspect of U.S. operations on the border, McAleenan said, nowhere more evident than here, along the Rio Grande. Crossings have been overwhelmed with hundreds of migrants seeking asylum daily; Border Patrol stations are crammed and have no space for detainees; the immigration court system is backed up with hundreds of thousands of cases; and health services are having to triage batches of patients who have a variety of ailments and communicable diseases.
“That breaking point has arrived this week,” McAleenan said, standing in front of a border fence. “CBP is facing an unprecedented humanitarian and border security crisis all along our southwest border, and nowhere has that crisis manifested more acutely than here in El Paso.”
“If they don’t have a valid claim, we’ll repatriate,” McAleenan said. “If they do, they’ll be released with the certainty that they have asylum with the ability to plan, to invest in a business, to make these choices for schools. Right now, they don’t have that. They live with uncertainty for years at a time because the system is broken and overwhelmed.”
CBP officials say they are particularly alarmed by the soaring number of unaccompanied juveniles in crowded detention cells because Health and Human Services can’t place them in shelters fast enough. CBP officials said they have 1,350 underage migrants in holding cells without a parent — and 20 percent are 12 years old or younger.
McAleenan said the overwhelming numbers and “inadequate capacity to detain families and children at ICE and HHS” is at the heart of the crisis.