Citing an unnamed Border Patrol source, Breitbart reported that the number of migrants who got away in less than six months of the current fiscal year has surpassed 118,000 – nearly doubling the 69,000 illegal immigrants who avoided apprehension in the whole 2020 fiscal year. The sharp increase started in January as President Joe Biden took office.
"Got-away" numbers are not usually revealed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). They represent the count of illegal immigrants who managed to escape Border Patrol apprehension after getting caught by aircraft platforms and camera systems. Border Patrol agents also use the traditional method of identifying footprints that crossed the border. From there, agents get a rough estimate of those who have eluded apprehension.
"That's where it gets tricky," said a Border Patrol agent with knowledge of the data. "On a small trail, dozens can walk all over each other's footprints, so you just do your best. Often, they'll glue carpet to the soles of their shoes making detection even harder."
According to the Breitbart source, got-away numbers are usually lower than the actual count of illegal immigrants who have eluded authorities.
The got-away numbers came out as Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials reported the highest number of migrant apprehension totals for the month of February in the past 15 years. Border Patrol agents detained 98,974 migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border last month, the highest tally for the second month of the year since 2006 when 125,046 were apprehended.
These apprehensions occurred during Biden's first full month in office. Biden has canceled border wall systems construction and many of the Trump-era policies that ended catch and release. (Related: Former head of Border Patrol says Biden's quick reversals of Trump-era immigration enforcement made America less safe before the ink dried.)
Republicans have criticized Biden for his moves, saying the shift will lead to more illegal immigration.
California Representative Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the House of Representatives, recently sent a letter to Biden requesting a meeting to discuss the issue. McCarthy said he had "great concern" with the administration's approach to the border.
"We must acknowledge the border crisis, develop a plan, and, in no uncertain terms, strongly discourage individuals from Mexico and Central America from ever making the dangerous journey to our southern border," McCarthy wrote in the letter.
Even children were braving that perilous path – alone.
Official reports indicated that Border Patrol agents apprehended 5,871 unaccompanied minors in January. That number climbed to 9,297 in February for a single-month increase of 58 percent.
The humanitarian needs of thousands of unaccompanied children crossing the border have impacted the Border Patrol's ability to cover many remote areas. It might have also contributed to the surge in the got-away tally. This situation is likely to worsen as the crisis develops.
As of Sunday, March 14, the Border Patrol agents were keeping 4,200 children in detention centers, including jail-like stations unfit to house minors.
The uptick is a 31 percent jump from less than a week earlier when 3,200 migrant children were reported to be held in Border Patrol custody.
In February, around 9,500 children who were not accompanied by their legal guardians were detained by American officials.
Almost 3,000 children have been kept for over 72 hours, the legal limit after which they are supposed to be transferred to the custody of health officials in the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). (Related: Leaked government document reveals migrant children are being held illegally in Border Patrol facilities.)
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas blamed the coronavirus pandemic restrictions and abnormally cold weather in Texas for the delay in processing.
The ORR facilities are generally better equipped to take children with shelters that feature play areas, classrooms and counseling services. The ORR also finds families or homes where the children will remain until their immigration claim is heard by the courts.
"We are working in partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services to address the needs of unaccompanied children, which is made only more difficult given the protocols and restrictions required to protect the public health and the health of the children themselves," Mayorkas said in a statement on Saturday, March 13.
According to government records reviewed by CBS News, an average of 565 unaccompanied minors entered CBP custody each day during the past week.
CBP sectors in the Rio Grande Valley and El Paso, Texas, as well as Yuma and Tucson, Arizona, were over capacity in terms of their space to house unaccompanied children. With more than 2,500 unaccompanied minors in custody, the Rio Grande Valley sector is currently at 363 percent capacity.
Officials are scrambling to find more government buildings for the children. A military base in Virginia and a California airbase run by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) are being considered as possible locations.
"Obviously, we're going to have more kids," White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a briefing. "So, of course, we have to look for facilities and places where we can safely and humanely have these unaccompanied minors in the interim."
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