WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. authorities say they picked up nearly 19,000 children traveling alone across the Mexican border in March.
It's the largest monthly number ever recorded and a major test for President Joe Biden as he reverses many of his predecessor’s hardline immigration tactics.
Although less than 11% of encounters in March were unaccompanied children, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) says they make up the largest demographic group of individuals in custody at the facilities.
There is some good news related to the children at the border though. As bed capacity at the facilities has expanded, CBP says the 30-day average of kids transferred out of CBP custody has increased, from 276 at the end of February to 507 at the end of March.
A complex mix of policies and conditions in the United States and Central America is driving the increase in kids at the border.
It coincides with the Biden administration’s decision to exempt unaccompanied children from pandemic-related powers to immediately expel most people from the country without giving them an opportunity to seek asylum.
As for the overall encounters at the border, CBP says it saw more than 172,000 people attempting to enter along the southwest border in March, a 71% increase since February.
CBP says the encounters and arrests have been increasing since April of 2020 for several reasons, including violence, natural disasters, food insecurity, and poverty in Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries.
The majority of the encounters at the border involve single adults, which CBP says it continues to expel. In March, the agency says it expelled 103,900 individuals, 28% of whom were individuals who had been previously expelled from the U.S.
CBP also gave an update on drug seizures, which it says were down by 14% in March from February. The agency says cocaine interceptions increased 26%, seizures of methamphetamine increased 91%, seizures of heroin went up 22% and seizures of fentanyl decreased by 28%.