United States Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement have released around 168,000 illegal immigrants — mostly members of family groups — into United States border communities to await asylum hearings, The Washington Times reports.
Although the Trump administration had officially declared an end to the "catch and release" policies of the Obama administration, the record number of illegal immigrants arriving at the border in the first quarter of 2019 has forced desperate immigration officials to find ways to alleviate the strain on their resources.
"Family units are not appearing in great numbers,” acting ICE chief Nathalie Asher told Congress on Wednesday, challenging the country's immigration systems. ICE and CBP cannot hold full families in custody for more than 21 days, per a 2005 court decision, and the Trump administration walked back a policy separating families last summer.
Asher and other immigration officials testified before Congress on Wednesday, begging legislators to free up more funds for immigration enforcement along the southern border. In conjunction with the hearing, border patrol also released the number of illegal immigrants intercepted during the month of April, which was, again, a record-breaking month.
According to a press release from CBP, 109,144 individuals were apprehended at the southern border in the month of April. Ten thousand additional illegal immigrants were arrested and detained at legal border crossings.
"The 58,474 individuals in family units set another record," CBP noted, "but an increasing number of people are also coming as single adults, 31,606. The overwhelming number of single adults are from Mexico, while most of the family units and unaccompanied teens are from Central America."
The most astounding statistic in the report, though, may be that the Department of Homeland Security estimates that "1% of the populations of Guatemala and Honduras have made the journey north to the U.S. and jumped the border in just the past seven months," according to statement made earlier this week by acting DHS secretary Kevin McAleenan.
The Washington Times reports that, if the record-breaking trend continues (and it has shown no sign of slowing in the first two weeks of May), by the end of this year, 2% of the populations of Guatemala and Honduras may have immigrated to the United States.
Democrats questioning DHS and CBP officials refused to believe that the border crisis has anything to do with a sudden rise in "migrant caravans" made up of immigrants from Central America looking for jobs in the United States, armed with the knowledge that the U.S. cannot keep family units in custody and must eventually release them to family members already living in-country.
Instead, Democrats, including Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), blamed the crisis on President Donald Trump's threat to close the border to both immigration and trade. Durbin claims Trump's rhetoric created an artificial emergency for asylum seekers who just want to get into the U.S. before more aggressive action is taken.
Officials responded to Durbin by noting that they frequently interview migrants and asylum seekers, and almost all interviewees tell authorities that they are looking for jobs and understand that the U.S. cannot immediately deport family units or adults who bring children.
"From interviews that we have done with the families we are apprehending, they are hearing that message loud and clear. They are hearing that from the smugglers, they are hearing that from the media down in the Northern Triangle,” one official told the panel.
Democrats say they'll try to address the crisis, but not by freeing up funds for immigration control. Rather, Durbin said, according to The Washington Times, that Democrats are considering a one-time bill authorizing aid to Guatemala and Honduras.