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Monthly southwest border figures spike to 20-year high

Hundreds of asylum seekers have set up tents by the port of entry at El Chaparral plaza in Tijuana, Mexico, on March 26. The U.S. Border Patrol said it apprehended or deemed inadmissible more than 170,000 migrants in March. Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI
Hundreds of asylum seekers have set up tents by the port of entry at El Chaparral plaza in Tijuana, Mexico, on March 26. The U.S. Border Patrol said it apprehended or deemed inadmissible more than 170,000 migrants in March. Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo

April 8 (UPI) -- The number of migrants stopped at the southwest border in March rose to the highest monthly level in more than 20 years, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection figures released Thursday.

The agency said it had 172,331 "encounters" in March, a roughly 70% spike over February and a five-fold increase over the same month in 2020.

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The last time the southwest border saw monthly figures that high was in April 2000, when there were 180,000 encounters.

The total number of apprehensions and inadmissibles for the fiscal year, which began in October, rose to 569,879, well above the entire 2020 fiscal year -- 458,088.

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The March 2021 encounters included some 18,000 unaccompanied minors, more than twice the figure seen in February. The influx of children and teenagers burdens an already-strained system in which federal officials are scrambling to figure out housing and connecting the minors with family or potential guardians already in the United States.

Single adults make up the bulk of March's encounters -- nearly 100,000 -- followed by some 53,000 family units and 159 accompanied minors.

Biden administration officials told reporters Thursday that about 60% of adult migrants have been turned away from the border due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on travel. Of those turned back, 30% had already been turned away at least once before.

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"The levels of flows pose a challenge to Border Patrol, but the high level of recidivism means that we can't look at those flows as individual people," an administration official said, according to NPR. "It's often the same people coming back, though.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which handles housing of unaccompanied minors, has sought to open temporary facilities at U.S. military bases where the children can live as they await reunification with family members or placement in foster care.

Last week, the department asked the Defense Department for space at Camp Roberts in California. The Pentagon has already granted approval for HHS to house unaccompanied minors at Joint Base San Antonio and at a temporary housing facility on an area of land at Fort Bliss near El Paso, Texas.

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