The United States is preparing to arrest as many as 9,000 people per day by the spring at its southern borders, according to two officials.
The two Department of Homeland Security officials said that the figure would be much larger than last year's peak, adding this could cause a headache for the Democratic administration in the run-up to midterm elections.
The number is a "worst-case scenario," according to one of the officials, both of whom spoke on condition of anonymity.
The administration of President Joe Biden dealt with a record-breaking 1.7 million border arrests last fiscal year, which ended on Sept. 30.
And according to government statistics, in July 2021 - the peak of last year's increase - daily migrant arrests were on average nearly 6,500.
The almost unprecedented number of arrests, which included many repeat crossers, caused backups of unaccompanied children in crowded border patrol stations.
That also prompted Republicans to criticize the Democratic president's approach to border security.
Almost 180,000 migrants attempting to cross the border from Mexico were detained by the US border authorities in December, according to official figures published on Monday, bringing the total number of detentions at the US southern border in 2021 to almost two million – a record of sorts.
Illegal immigration to the US, which had nosedived since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, has soared again, especially in the first year of the Joe Biden administration.
Meanwhile, Republicans are likely to make the border a major campaign theme ahead of November midterm elections that will decide control of the US Congress.
A US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) spokesperson said the agency "stands ready to address any potential increase in migrant encounters," while at the same time "managing a fair and orderly immigration system."
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden's top immigration official, met with criticism from individual border patrol agents during a visit on Wednesday to Yuma, Arizona, according to four current and former agents and an audio recording posted online by the conservative website Townhall.
Some agents, who have become frustrated with Biden's approach to enforcement, argue it has hurt morale.
DHS spokesperson Marsha Espinosa said in statement that Mayorkas "welcomes candor during these conversations, and appreciates and respects the opinions of each member of the CBP workforce."
In Yuma, according to Reuters, there were hundreds of migrants walking through a gap in the border barrier and turning themselves in to ask for asylum over the weekend.
The migrants said they were from Venezuela, Cuba, and other Latin American countries, as well as farther away places.