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New record: 18,890 migrant children detained on US/Mexican border in March

A group of newly released detainees wait at the bus station to walk a few blocks to the Catholic Charities Respite Center in McAllen, Texas, on Wednesday, June 27, 2018. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
April 08, 2021

U.S. Customs and Border Protection encountered almost 19,000 unaccompanied illegal immigrant children in March, making it the highest number ever recorded in a single month.

Authorities apprehended 18,890 children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border last month, shattering previous single-month highs recorded in May 2019 with 11,475 and June 2014 with 10,620. Prior to 2009 when the agency started publishing the numbers, Mexican adults were the largest demographic population illegally crossing the border.  

“Although less than 11 percent of encounters in March were unaccompanied children, they make up the largest demographic group of individuals in custody at CBP facilities,” the agency’s press release stated.

The total in March also dwarfed the number of children encountered during the same period last year, which involved just 3,221 children. It also nearly doubled the 9,457 unaccompanied children apprehended by the CBP in February.

Despite the record-breaking numbers, Biden administration officials continue to maintain that the influx is “not new.”

“CBP has experienced an increase in encounters and arrests. This is not new. Encounters have continued to increase since April 2020, and our past experiences have helped us be better prepared for the challenges we face this year,” said CBP Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Commissioner Troy Miller in the press release.

“We are committed to balancing the need to maintain border security, care for those in our custody, and keep the American people and our workforce safe.”

The influx of children traveling alone across the United States’ southern border comes following the Biden administration’s decision to enact sweeping changes to immigration policy, including ending the emergency declaration on the U.S.-Mexico border, halting funding for the Trump administration’s border wall and stopping the “Remain in Mexico” Migrant Protection Protocols.

Overall, CBP encountered more than 172,000 individuals attempting to unlawfully enter the United States in March, a 71 percent jump from February. The majority of apprehensions involve single adults, the agency stated.

Large groups are also becoming increasingly common, particularly in the Rio Grande Valley region. According to border protection, groups of 100 or more people were rare during the pandemic, dropping from 216 in FY2019 to just 10 in FY2020.

However, by the end of March 2021, the agency has already recorded 49 encounters with large groups in FY2021, involving more than 4,700 people.

Illegal immigrants spreading COVID-19 as they unlawfully cross the border remains a concern for CBP, as well, which stated “the safety of our workforce, our communities, and individuals in our care is a top priority.”

“CBP personnel put themselves and their families at risk with every encounter at the border,” the release stated. “Since the start of the pandemic, more than 8,300 CBP employees have tested positive for COVID-19, and 28 have passed away.”