A father and his daughter look for shoes at a Tucson church that served as a temporary shelter after immigration officials released a large number of migrants from custody.

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”.

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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

City 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Big Bend 3684 4096 5031 6366 6002 8045
Del Rio 23510 24255 19013 23078 13476 15833
El Centro 16306 14511 12820 19448 18633 29230
El Paso 11154 12339 14495 25634 25193 31561
Laredo 50749 44049 35888 36562 25460 32641
Rio Grande 154453 256393 147257 186830 137562 162262
San Diego 27496 29911 26290 31891 26086 38591
Tucson 120939 87915 63397 64891 38657 52172
Yuma 6106 5902 7142 14170 12847 26244
Total 414397 479371 331333 408870 303916 396579

Border Patrol apprehensions of family units since fiscal year 2013

City 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Big Bend 102 176 807 1051 941 741
Del Rio 711 4950 2141 3549 2453 2829
El Centro 365 630 675 1593 1798 3539
El Paso 298 562 1220 5664 8609 12312
Laredo 1688 3591 1372 1640 865 597
Rio Grande 7265 52326 27409 52006 49896 63278
San Diego 1576 1723 1550 2863 2944 4408
Tucson 2630 3812 2930 3139 2042 4955
Yuma 220 675 1734 6169 6074 14554
Total 14855 68445 39838 77674 75622 107212

Contact reporter Perla Trevizo at 573-4102 or ptrevizo@tucson.com. On Twitter: @Perla_Trevizo