Originally Published in The Hill
Rebecca Beitsch and Rafael Bernal - April 8, 2021
The Biden administration says it's making headway on more quickly processing migrant minors in their custody while continuing to expel a record number of adults under Trump-era COVID-19 protocols.
March numbers released by the Department of Homeland Security show more than 172,000 migrants were encountered by U.S. authorities at the southern border last month — a 71 percent increase over February figures and the highest total recorded since 2006.
The numbers, officially released Thursday, were previously reported as "preliminary data" by several news outlets.
The data shows the administration’s reliance on the policies of its predecessor. More than 103,000 of those adults who attempted to cross the border, roughly 60 percent, were removed under a Trump administration policy allowing swift deportation due to COVID-19.
It also shows success in processing minors out of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody as lawmakers of both parties have increasingly put pressure on the Biden administration to address the swelling numbers.
The number of minors forwarded to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for placement with a sponsor in the U.S. jumped from an average of 276 per day in February to 507 per day in March. U.S. law requires the CBP to forward children out of their custody within 72 hours — a timeline often not met.
“That's very significant for us,” one administration official said on a call with reporters Wednesday. “We'll start being able to move those kids through rather than having them in our facilities for 48, 72 hours or even longer.”
Still, the number of unaccompanied children crossing the border nearly doubled between February and March to 18,990 children, a sign the Biden administration will continue to face challenges in securing enough housing as it ramps up its ability to quickly transfer minors to HHS.
The administration has opened a number of new facilities in recent weeks to house children, including a number in Texas and California in spaces ranging from military bases to convention centers.
A number of Republican lawmakers have used the new facilities set up to house migrant children as a backdrop for videos calling on Biden to address the “crisis” at the border.
And with adults, the administration is also facing record numbers, in part because quick expulsions act as an incentive for migrants to attempt multiple crossings.
“Twenty-eight percent of those individuals had previously been expelled from the US, under Title 42 authorities,” a senior administration official said, referring to the policy that allows swift deportations due to COVID-19.
“The levels of flow pose a challenge to Border Patrol but the high level recidivism means that we can't look at those flows as individual people. It's often the same people coming back through.”
Experts say the multiple crossings by the same individuals are in part driving the record figures.
“We know that thanks to Title 42, many of those single adults and some of those families will just try again a week later, a day later, or sometimes maybe even on the same day that they're sent back to Mexico, which has driven up these numbers and it is in many ways creating this story of the highest order encounters in 20 years," Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel with the American Immigration Council said on a call with reporters.