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Southwest border crossings on pace for highest levels in 20 years: US official

Migrants from Central America stand near the Paso del Norte international border bridge in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, after being deported from the United States on March 11, 2021. (Reuters photo)

The United States is likely to reach the highest number of migrants apprehended at the US-Mexico border in 20 years, says Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

With hundreds of migrant children crossing the Southwestern border alone, the situation there is becoming a crisis and a political emergency for President Joe Biden, who vowed to unwind some of his predecessor’s immigration policies when he assumed office on Jan. 20.

The new administration has been seeking to speed up the processing of hundreds of youths under 18 who are crossing the southern border alone every day from Central American countries and Mexico.

However, this is taking much longer time than expected. Around 4,300 unaccompanied children were being held by Border Patrol officials as of Sunday, according to an agency official who talked to Reuters on condition of anonymity.

According to the law, the children are supposed to be transferred out of Customs and Border Protection to shelters run by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) within 72 hours.

The problem is the department does not have the capacity to take in the current number of children arriving at the southwest border each day without a parent or a legal guardian, Mayorkas said in a statement on Tuesday


“We are on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years. We are expelling most single adults and families. We are not expelling unaccompanied children," he said addressing what he called a “difficult” situation at the border.

He went on to say that the majority of migrants apprehended there are single adults, and they are “currently being expelled under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's authority to manage the public health crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Single adults from Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras “are swiftly expelled to Mexico,” he added.

Families, who come from Mexico or those other countries, are also being arrested and expelled to Mexico “unless Mexico does not have the capacity to receive the families,” Mayorkas noted.

Meanwhile, a dozen Republicans, who visited border facilities in El Paso, Texas, blamed Biden for the suffering of migrants arriving at the border and warning about health and security risks to the United States.

They said Biden’s relaxing of some of former president Donald Trump’s immigration policies has incentivized people to try to cross into the US illegally.

Democrats, on the other hand, censured the Republicans for their own immigration record. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also blamed Trump for the border refugee crisis, saying the former president handed Biden a “broken system.”

Mayorkas attributed the high numbers of migrants to the Trump administration, which he said “completely dismantled the asylum system.”

"The system was gutted, facilities were closed, and they cruelly expelled young children into the hands of traffickers,” Mayorkas said. “We have had to rebuild the entire system.”

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