A Record Number of Families Are Crossing the Southern Border Illegally

Border Patrol agents apprehended 16,658 family member in September, breaking a record set in June 2014.

Families from Guatemala are detained by Border Patrol agents after crossing the US-Mexico border without authorization along the Rio Grande in Texas in June. Jahi Chikwendiu/Getty

The number of migrant families entering the United States illegally has reached a record high, according to Department of Homeland Security data obtained by the Washington Post.

In September, Border Patrol agents apprehended 16,658 family members, up from about 9,200 in July and 4,200 last September. The previous record of 16,357 was set in June 2014. 

Overall apprehension numbers remain low compared to recent decades because far fewer people are crossing the border alone. Border Patrol agents detained 396,579 people in the 2018 fiscal year, which ended on September 30. That is a 30 percent increase from 2017, when border apprehensions were at their lowest level since 1971. In the 1990s, about 1.25 million people per year were apprehended along the US-Mexico border.

The Washington Post reports that the increase in families crossing the border has enraged President Donald Trump:

Large groups of 100 or more Central American parents and children have been crossing the Rio Grande and the deserts of Arizona to turn themselves in, and after citing a fear of return, the families are typically assigned a court date and released from custody.

“We’re getting hammered daily,” said one Border Patrol agent in South Texas who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media.

Having campaigned on a promise to stop illegal immigration and build a border wall, Trump now faces a spiraling enforcement challenge with no ready solutions. The soaring arrest numbers — and a new caravan of Central American migrants heading north — have left him in a furious state, White House aides say.

In June, Trump abandoned the zero-tolerance policy that separated more than 2,500 families this spring. The Trump administration is now considering a new family separation policy that would force parents to choose between being detained indefinitely with their kids and being separated. Trump has been receiving regular updates on the border numbers, according to the Post, and is now pushing to restart some form of family separation.

In total, 107,212 family member were taken into government custody in the 2018 fiscal year. That was up from the previous record of 77,857 set in 2016.