Preliminary data show Customs and Border Protection (CBP) likely encountered about 210,000 migrants at the southern border in July — the highest monthly total since 2000.
That figure includes an expected record number of unaccompanied children — more than 19,000, according to a court filing.
David Shahoulian, assistant secretary for border and immigration policy at the Department of Homeland Security, said in the filing that U.S. border agents are encountering “record numbers” of migrants.
“These encounter rates have strained DHS operations and caused border facilities to be filled beyond their normal operating capacity, impacting the ability to employ social distancing in these congregate settings,” Shahoulian’s declaration reads. “At the same time, DHS is also experiencing significantly increased rates of noncitizens testing positive for COVID19.”
It adds that the crowding has only become more dangerous in the face of the highly transmissible Delta variant.
The filing came in response to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union and other immigrant advocacy groups seeking to overturn the Title 42 policy that allows border agents to expel migrants and asylum-seekers without a court hearing over concerns of coronavirus spread.
The CDC extended Title 42 on Monday, the same day that the ACLU renewed its lawsuit, which it first filed in January.
The court filing says U.S. border agents encountered an average of 6,779 migrants daily during the first 29 days of July. CBP was at 389 percent of COVID-adjusted capacity on August 1, with seven of its nine southwest border sectors over capacity.
The Rio Grande Valley sector was 783 percent over capacity.
The CDC order “temporarily suspends the introduction of certain noncitizens based on the Director’s determination that introduction of such noncitizens” through the Mexico or Canada border “creates a serious danger of the introduction of COVID-19 into the United States,” the agency said in a press release.
Unaccompanied migrant children are exempt from the order.
The order “shall remain in effect until the CDC Director determines that the danger of further introduction of COVID-19 into the United States from covered noncitizens has ceased to be a serious danger to the public health.”
“Amid the ongoing migrant surge, both the COVID-19-reduced capacity and higher non-COVID holding capacity limits have been exceeded in CBP facilities,” the order states. “Complete termination of any order under” Title 42 would result “in severe overcrowding and a high risk of COVID-19 transmission among those held in the facilities and the CBP workforce, ultimately burdening the local healthcare system.”