Apr 2, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Reports: More than 170,000 migrants taken into custody at southern border in March

Photo of a person looking down at a baby in a detention facility
The main detention center for unaccompanied children crossing the border is an overcrowded tent structure where more than 4,000 kids and families are kept in pods, with the youngest kept in a large play pen with mats on the floor for sleeping. Photo: Dario Lopez-Mills/Pool via Getty Images

More than 170,000 migrants were taken into custody at the U.S.-Mexico border in March, the highest monthly total since at least 2006, according to preliminary data obtained by the New York Times and Washington Post.

Why it matters: "The extraordinary increase — up from 78,442 in January — underscores the magnitude of the challenge facing the Biden administration," the Post notes.

By the numbers: Border officials encountered more than 18,700 unaccompanied children and teenagers at the border in March — nearly double the 9,450 taken into custody in February, per the Times. About 3,490 minors were taken into custody in February 2020.

  • The number of encounters of migrants traveling as families climbed to more than 53,000 last month, up from 19,246 in February and 7,294 in January, per the Post, citing the preliminary numbers.
  • Of note: The numbers could change as the data is finalized, officials told the Post and Times.

The big picture: President Biden has attributed the sharp upward trend to seasonal patterns. But "the precipitous influx during the first two months of his term has a more vertical growth curve than any comparable span over the past two decades," the Post writes.

  • Biden has retained Trump's controversial, pandemic-era "Title 42" rule, which allows border agents to turn away migrants without hearing requests for asylum. Unaccompanied minors are exempt, however.
  • In March, nearly 1,000 unaccompanied migrant children were held in border patrol custody for over 10 days — more than a fourfold increase from the prior week.
  • The detention centers are not meant to house children for more than three days, but the recent surge of unaccompanied minors at the border has overwhelmed capacity. The surge in border crossings by minors is expected to last at least seven months.

What's next: The Department of Health and Human Services has opened or is preparing to open nine emergency facilities for minors while it screens people in the U.S. who can take custody of the children, the Post reports.

Go deeper: Hundreds of migrant kids with positive COVID-19 tests held in shelters

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