President Donald Trump’s efforts to halt migrant caravans and limit asylum have not deterred Central American minors and members of their families from rushing toward the U.S., according to data released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Wednesday.
Border Patrol agents apprehended 27,518 members of family units in December, the highest monthly total on record. That figure has steadily been climbing now for five months, even as Trump made stopping migrant caravans the centerpiece of his midterm election strategy and drove Washington into a partial government shutdownover funding for his border wall.
Those caravan members, most of whom have been trying to exercise their legal right to request asylum in the U.S., contributed to a third straight month of more than 60,000 migrants being detained at U.S. ports of entry and arrested in the vast stretches of border in between.
The Trump administration points to those numbers as proof that the situation along the southern border is at “crisis” levels that requires the expansion of the border wall. Trump used a national TV address from the Oval Office on Tuesday night to make that case.
The administration has also used the growing number of migrants to try to end asylum for victims of domestic abuse and gang violence, and to prevent migrants who enter the country illegally from applying for asylum. Both of those moves have been blocked by federal courts.
Border authorities are referring 50 people a day for urgent medical care, including tuberculosis, flu and even pregnant women about to give birth, a top official said Monday, saying it’s unlike anything they’ve ever seen before.
Most of those in need of care are children, and a staggering 28 percent are under age 5, having been dragged along for the trip by parents who in many cases are hoping to use the children as a shield against speedy deportation from the U.S.
The numbers were released after a full review was done of all children in the custody of Customs and Border Protection in the wake of two illegal-immigrant children who died in U.S. hospitals in December.
CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said most of those needing help were ill when they arrived at the border, and some appear to have made the initial decision to leave even while ailing.
“Many were ill before they departed their homes,” the commissioner said. “We’re talking about cases of pneumonia, tuberculosis, parasites. These are not things that developed urgently in a matter of days.”