Posted on September 1, 2023

Families Crossing U.S. Border Illegally Reached All-Time High in August

Nick Miroff and Maria Sacchetti, Washington Post, August 31, 2023

Record numbers of migrant families streamed across the U.S.-Mexico border in August, according to preliminary data obtained by The Washington Post, an influx that has upended Biden administration efforts to discourage parents from entering illegally with children and could once again place immigration in the spotlight during a presidential race.

The U.S. Border Patrol arrested at least 91,000 migrants who crossed as part of a family group in August, exceeding the prior one-month record of 84,486 set in May 2019, during the Trump administration. Families were the single largest demographic group crossing the border in August, surpassing single adults for the first time since Biden took office.

Overall, the data show, border apprehensions have risen more than 30 percent for two consecutive months, after falling sharply in May and June as the Biden administration rolled out new restrictions and entry opportunities. The Border Patrol made more than 177,000 arrests along the Mexico border in August, up from 132,652 in July and 99,539 in June.

Erin Heeter, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security, said the Biden administration is trying to slow illegal entries by expanding lawful options and also stiffening penalties. The government ramped up deportation flights carrying families in August, she said, and since May has repatriated more than 17,000 parents and children who recently crossed the border in a family group.

“But as with every year, the U.S. is seeing ebbs and flows of migrants arriving fueled by seasonal trends and the efforts of smugglers to use disinformation to prey on vulnerable migrants and encourage migration,” Heeter said in a statement.

Family groups have been an Achilles’ heel for U.S. immigration enforcement for over a decade. Most migrants in that category who are detained by Border Patrol agents are quickly released and allowed to live and work in the United States while their humanitarian claims are pending. Backlogged U.S. immigration courts typically take several years to reach a decision, and the process rarely ends in deportation, federal data show.

Coming amid peak summer heat, the latest surge underscores the extent to which U.S. immigration enforcement has come full circle since Trump’s tenure, when the Department of Homeland Security faced an influx of families crossing from Mexico and for several months tried taking children from their parents as a deterrent.

Trump officials eventually reduced family crossings by aggressively expanding the “Remain in Mexico” program, which sent thousands of asylum seekers back across the border to wait, many in squalid conditions, while their claims were adjudicated in U.S. courts.

When the pandemic hit in early 2020, Trump used a provision of Title 42, the U.S. public health code, to rapidly expel border-crossers to their home countries or Mexico without a chance to seek asylum. U.S. Customs and Border Protection carried out 3 million expulsions, including of families, between March 2020 and May 2023, records show.


The latest Customs and Border Protection data show more than 50,000 migrants were processed in August at U.S. border crossings, where the Biden administration is allowing up to 1,450 per day to schedule an appointment to enter the country lawfully using a mobile app. That increased the total number of migrants encountered by CBP at the southern border in August — at legal crossings or elsewhere — to about 230,000, the highest one-month total this calendar year.

A separate Biden program accepts roughly 30,000 applicants per month from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela who obtain authorization to live and work in the United States for two years if they have a financial sponsor and clear background checks. The program, known as parole, allows beneficiaries to fly to the United States instead of crossing at the border.


Illegal crossings by migrants from the parole-eligible countries have fallen sharply. But CBP records show major increases this summer in migration from Guatemala, Honduras, Ecuador, Peru and an array of nations in Asia and Africa. {snip}


The August tally brings the total number of “family member units” surrendering at the southern border during the current fiscal year to more than half a million people, a record, with one more month to count.