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Data: U.S. Customs and Border Protection; Chart: Axios Visuals

The Biden administration projects the number of unaccompanied children crossing the border could spiral from more than 16,000 this month to as many as 26,000 in September, according to documents leaked to Axios.

Why it matters: Until this month, the record was 11,475 in May 2019. The minimum projections for each of the next six months are thousands higher than that.

  • To give a sense of how out of hand the crossings are getting, the administration projected just a month ago the figure for May would be 13,000. The new estimate is 22,000 to 25,000.
  • The Customs and Border Protection range for September is 22,000 to 26,000. Under any scenario, projections include a peak month that would double the record that stood until this month.
  • Spokespersons for the White House and the Department of Homeland Security did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services referred Axios to DHS.

Between the lines: The new figures indicate government resources will be strained far longer than under usual seasonal migration patterns.

  • During his news conference last week, President Biden repeatedly described the border situation as normal: "Nothing has changed. ... It happens every single, solitary year."
  • But his own agencies are preparing for anything but normal, according to the leaked documents, dated last Wednesday.

By the numbers: CBP data back to 2010 showed the May 2019 record of 11,475 unaccompanied minors trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.

  • No more than 8,230 kids were put in shelters each year from 2004 to 2009, before a rise in child migration was first noticed in 2011, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
  • Now, the government is planning for multiple months with more than 20,000 kids illegally crossing the border — and that's not including those from Mexico, who can quickly be returned to their home country.
  • The Wall Street Journal first reported on heightened projections for this April and May. The figures obtained by Axios show two worst-case scenarios through the rest of the fiscal year, one based on a 2016 model and another based on a hybrid model.

What to watch: The documents also show the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has an immediate need for an extra 6,000 shelter beds. That would allow it to house the migrant kids already in government custody while remaining at a targeted cap of 90% capacity.

  • The agency is planning to open up space for more than 5,000 kids using sites on military bases.
  • It will need an additional 34,000 beds in September to prevent kids waiting in unfit border patrol stations, if projections hold. The agency could have more than 53,000 kids in custody that month.
  • The administration already has asked federal workers outside the normal immigration agencies for volunteers to work on the problem.

The big picture: Under current policies, the government is facing unheard of numbers of migrant kids illegally crossing the border this fiscal year — from 159,000 to 184,000.

  • Even the low-end estimate is double the total number of kids who tried to cross during the crisis year of 2019. In 2014, the Obama administration struggled to care for just 69,000 kids who crossed illegally.
  • The data obtained by Axios did not include projections for migrant families, but the Department of Homeland Security is expecting from 500,000 to 800,000 migrants crossing the border this fiscal year in family groups, the Washington Post reported Sunday.
  • The numbers would be equal to or greater than in 2019, compounding the growing crisis.

Go deeper

Mar 28, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Trump says he'll likely visit southern border in "next couple of weeks"

Former President Trump at February's Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Former President Trump told Fox News Saturday night he intends to visit the southern border soon, as he criticized the Biden administration's response to an uptick in migrants arriving there.

Details: Trump claimed on "Justice with Judge Jeanine" that "a lot of people want me to" visit, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Border Patrol officials. After host Jeanine Pirro asked him when he'd go, Trump replied: "probably over the next couple of weeks."

White House aide says U.S. will address border surge with diplomacy

White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield told ABC's "This Week" that the Biden administration is strengthening diplomatic efforts in the Northern Triangle of Central America to address the "root causes of migration" and discourage migrants from coming to the U.S.

Why it matters: There is now a record number of unaccompanied minors in U.S. custody, and the number is set to increase in the coming season. Documents leaked to Axios last week show that children have been held in border patrol custody for over 10 days in facilities not meant to house kids for more than three days.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Mar 27, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Why the climate crisis will intensify the border crisis

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The influx of migrants to the U.S. southern border has taken over the news — and climate change, among other factors, ensures it won't be going away.

Why it matters: The migration of tens of millions of people, exacerbated by a changing climate, will be one of the mega-trends of the 21st century. For both humanitarian and political reasons, wealthy countries like the U.S. will need to figure out a way to handle a flow of people that may never stop.