Record Number of Families Apprehended at Southern Border in December

Migrants from Honduras walk next to the border fence as they prepare to cross it illegally, in Tijuana, Mexico, December 27, 2018. (Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents arrested a record number of family units at the southern border last month despite the Trump administration’s efforts to stem the flow of migrants by tightening asylum restrictions and confronting unruly caravans before they cross onto American soil.

CBP agents apprehended 27,518 members of family units in December, according to data released by the CBP on Wednesday. Those migrants, most of whom entered the already-strained asylum system upon capture, were among a total of 60,728 individuals caught trying to enter the country illegally last month.

The number of migrants claiming membership in a family unit has risen steadily over the past five months as the Trump administration struggles to find a legal means of reducing the population of migrants eligible to apply for asylum after crossing the border illegally.

President Trump, who is presiding over a government shutdown now in its third week, called on Congress Tuesday night to pass a spending bill that includes $5.7 billion for the construction of “steel-slat barrier” at the southern border, as well as $800 million to help house the thousands of migrants who are awaiting a ruling on their asylum applications.

In late December, a federal judge struck down former attorney general Jeff Sessions’s June change to the asylum process, which, if upheld, would have denied entry to migrants claiming asylum under the “credible fear” standard due to the threat of gang-related violence. Sessions, in announcing the rule change, argued that the asylum process had become too expansive in recent years and should be returned to its original role as an option available only to those under threat from their native government.

The Trump administration is also working to end the court-imposed limit on the length of time minors can be held in federal custody so that families can be detained together as their asylum claims are processed.

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