Nearly 40 percent of those caught by the Border Patrol in Arizona are now families and children, most of them Central Americans.
The federal agency made nearly 400,000 apprehensions along the Southwest border in fiscal year 2018, up 30 percent from last year. But most of that increase is due to a larger number of families coming across several sectors of the border, particularly in Texas and Arizona.
In Yuma, where the largest increase in the share of families was seen, more than three-fourths of those apprehended are either members of family units — usually a single parent traveling with one or two children — or minors traveling alone, newly released government data show.
Overall, though, Border Patrol arrests are comparable to levels seen in years before President Trump took office. Immediately after he took office, fewer people migrated, as they apparently waited to see what his administration would do about his campaign promise to stem unauthorized immigration.
The end-of-fiscal-year numbers where released at a time when immigration is a central issue in key midterm elections in the United States and as thousands of Central Americans, many of them Hondurans, make their way north in an effort to seek refuge.
The changes in demographics of those coming across the border — from mostly single Mexican men who could be deported within a few hours, to families and children who can’t be detained for more than 20 days — highlight a crisis along the border, senior administration officials said during a call with reporters Tuesday.
The unusual nature of what’s happening today, officials said, is that those apprehended can’t be removed. The administration blames this on court decisions that limit the amount of time children can be detained and that require unaccompanied minors be transferred from the custody of Customs and Border Protection to Health and Human Services, as well on the asylum system.
Families the Arizona Daily Star has talked with say they are fleeing violence and entrenched poverty in Central America.
The administration would like to detain families together while their cases are being processed to ensure that those who don’t have legitimate asylum claims are returned to their home countries, officials said. Immigration and Customs Enforcement currently has about 3,300 beds in family detention centers, but none in Arizona.
Border Patrol agents in Tucson made a little more than 1,000 arrests of family units in September, more than twice as many as in August. In Yuma, agents arrested 2,187 members of families, an increase of about 25 percent from the prior month.
Those who don’t pose a security risk are generally outfitted with an ankle monitoring bracelet and given a notice to appear before an immigration official at a location where they have a relative or friend who can sponsor them, a system the government calls “catch and release”.
Over the last few weeks, immigration officials have released larger numbers of families who cross through Southern Arizona, citing Border Patrol sectors operating at capacity.
Earlier this month, ICE released more than 700 parents and their children to Southern Arizona communities in the span of a weekend. The large release prompted advocates and nonprofits to convert a church gym into an impromptu shelter in Tucson and to book hotel rooms in Yuma. Others were sent to churches in Phoenix.
At the same time, families have had to wait up to 30 days to be processed at ports of entry, the legal path government officials have said asylum seekers should follow. Port officials have said they have limited capacity to process and hold families, since the ports were not built for that, and as they balance their various duties.
Government officials said Tuesday that they weren’t in a position to make formal announcements but were evaluating all options about how to go forward as more families arrive at the border.
Total border apprehensions by sector and fiscal year
Border Patrol apprehensions of family units since fiscal year 2013