US Customs and Border Patrol Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan said in fiscal year 2018 there was 120 percent increase from fiscal year 2017 with 38,000 claims at southwest border ports of entry.
Total enforcement actions for last month was 76,103 apprehensions, which is a 31 percent increase from January. Of that, 7,250 were unaccompanied children and 40,385 were family units.
McAleenan said that's the highest numbers in any February for the past 12 years.
United States Border Patrol Chief of Operations Brian Hastings said there were more than 66,000 apprehensions in February. During the fiscal year, which started in October 268,000--which is a 97 percent increase from last fiscal year.
Back in 2005, they had more than 1.5 million, but it's the changing demographics now that's the challenge. Historically, 70 to 90 percent have Mexican nationals being arrested, now 70 percent are from the northern triangle--Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.
McAleenan said El Paso border patrol agents, and 40 miles south, are experiencing this trends and increases more acutely than any other place along the border.
"El Paso sector has seen a 434 percent increase in apprehensions this fiscal year. The vast majority are family units and unaccompanied children arriving in large groups, which challenges their capacity in our facilities," said McAleenan.
Hastings said another trend is large groups, more than 100 people. This year, they have seen 70 groups, totally more than 12,000 apprehension.
Last fiscal year (2018) there were 13.
Fiscal year 2017 there were two large groups.
If that trend continues, Hastings said they estimate to apprehend 174 large groups.
The concern is border patrol is spending a large amount of their daily resources.
Hastings said the agents are pulled from the national security mission to take care of people trying to illegally cross the border.
"Approximately 25 to 40 percent of our border patrol manpower is being dedicated to the care, transportation and the humanitarian mission," said Hastings.
He said border patrol stations were built in the 80s and 90s for a different demographic--not family units and unaccompanied minors. Currently, the facilities and manpower cannot sustain border patrol operations.
A Centralized Processing Center will be established in the El Paso sector to streamline operations for family units. But, this is just a temporary fix.
McAleenan said facility housing migrants near El Paso have reached and maxed capacity multiple times this fiscal year affecting efficiency, as well as migrant care.
Hastings said from April 2018 through February 2019, there have been almost 2,400 fraudulent claims from families.
October 2018 was the first time in history family units arrests exceeded individual arrests.
In February, family units and unaccompanied children accounted for 60 percent of all apprehensions.
He added that word of mouth and social media tells these folks if they bring a child, they'll be successful; and that adults with children will not be detained during immigration proceedings from immigration entry, since there's no consequence, they expect the trend to increase.
McAleenan expects numbers to rise in March, April and May, which are due to usual seasonal increases.