More than 172,000 people, mostly single adults, attempted to cross into the U.S. at the southern border in March, 71% more than in February, according to statistics that Customs and Border Protection released Thursday. It the largest single-month total in at least 15 years.
There was also a record number of unaccompanied minors in March: 18,890 children from Central America, double the February total and the largest single-month tally on record. The previous high of 11,475 unaccompanied minors occurred in May 2019.
The migrant crossing record is testing the Biden administration’s ability to mitigate the surge and properly care for families and children at the border. The president and his top officials have refused to call the situation a “crisis,” repeatedly emphasizing that the government has inherited mayhem from the Donald Trump administration and that the current influx is akin to surges past administrations have faced.
Biden administration officials told reporters that it is working with various government agencies and other partners to alleviate the situation as quickly as possible, including adding thousands of beds in facilities across Texas and elsewhere for unaccompanied children. Officials also said they were adding several emergency intake sites to reduce crowding in CBP facilities and avoid holding children for longer than the 72-hour legal limit.
Officials noted that the 30-day daily average of children transferred out of CBP custody has risen from 276 at the end of February to 507 at the end of March. The administration had previously faced backlash as it struggled to provide adequate housing for the thousands of minors entering the country.
“We’re going to utilize all of the options that we have available to us to safely care for the children who are in our custody, and that includes long-term and short-term solutions,” a Biden administration official told reporters in an informational call.
According to Thursday’s data, CBP also expelled 103,900 people in March, or 60% of the total, under a Trump-era policy, known as Title 42, that allows border officials to turn away migrants in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Officials said 28% of those were people who had previously tried to enter and been turned away.
Although Biden promised it would not use Title 42 to expel unaccompanied minors, immigration advocates say the policy is inhumane and ineffective, and should not be used to turn away adults either.
Since taking office, Biden has made immigration a White House priority, reversing many of Trump’s hard-line policies. The Biden administration’s changes include offering millions a path to citizenship and revoking the 2019 Migrant Protection Protocols, which forced individuals to return to Mexico as they wait for court hearings.
Republicans in Congress have widely rebuffed the president’s immigration plan, largely refusing to support recent bills that passed in the House that would grant relief to immigrants living and working in the U.S. And while Republicans have attempted to blame Biden’s softer stance on immigration for the recent surge at the border, experts said the rise in migrants is more complicated, pointing to contributing factors such as violence in Central American countries, climate change and decades of failed immigration policies.