Large groups of family units and unaccompanied children now make up the majority of apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border, federal officials said Tuesday as they released their Southwest Border migration statistics.
"The system is well beyond capacity and remains at a breaking point," U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan said asking for legislative action to help migrants and officers.
McAleenan described stark increases of asylum seekers.
“Taken together these numbers are remarkable,” McAleenan said of the reported 76,000 total apprehensions and inadmissible arrivals in a four-week period. “That’s the highest number of encounters in any February in the last 12 years.”
“We have encountered more families in five months and five days than last year’s record total.”
Chief Brian Hastings, chief of operation at Border Patrol Headquarters, said the current situation is "unsustainable for Border Patrol operations."
There were more than 66,000 apprehensions in February, he said, adding that's not near the 1.5 million apprehensions recorded in 2015.
“The significant change in the demographics of what we’re seeing today is what presents us and our partners a lot of challenges,” Hastings said. “Family units and unaccompanied children accounted for 65 percent of all Border Patrol apprehensions.”
There was no reason to expect this trend to diminish, he added.
The total enforcement actions reported in February include those people who were deemed inadmissible at ports of entry and those apprehended between the ports of entry, according to officials.
The number is a 31 percent increase over January, officials said.
There were 7,249 unaccompanied children in that number, CBP officials said. More than 40,000 were described as family units.
"Our Border Patrol stations were built in the 80s and 90s," Hastings said. "They were built for a different demographic, not for the current amount of family units and [unaccompanied minors] we're currently seeing."
Hastings added that an average of 55 people per day are sent for medical treatment. The agency said its officers have spent just under 5,700 shifts on hospital watch since December at a cost of $2.2 million of Border Patrol salary.
The agency will set up a Centralized Processing Center (CPC) in El Paso, Texas, to provide one location for processing family units and children. It will include medical assessments.
McAleenan said the vulnerabilities in the legal system are as important as developing a better border barrier in responding to the increase in apprehensions.