More migrants crossing US southern border in large groups

WASHINGTON (AP) – The number of migrant families crossing the southwest border is again breaking records, and the crush is overwhelming border agents and straining facilities, officials said.

More than 76,000 migrants crossed the United States (US)-Mexico border last month, more than double the number from the same period last year.

Most were families coming in ever-increasingly large groups – there were 70 groups of more than 100 people in the past few months, and they cross illegally in extremely rural locations with few agents and staff. There were only 13 large groups during the previous budget year, and only two the year before.

The system “is well beyond capacity, and remains at the breaking point,” US Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said during a press conference on Tuesday.

The new figures reflect the difficulties President Donald Trump has faced as he tries to cut down on illegal immigration, his signature issue. But it could also help him make the case that there truly is a national emergency at the border – albeit one built around humanitarian crises and not necessarily border security. The Senate is expected to vote next week and join the House in rejecting his national emergency declaration aimed at building border walls, but Trump would almost certainly veto the measure and the issue is likely to be settled in the courts.

After the deaths of two migrant children in Border Patrol custody, Customs and Border Protection stepped up medical screenings. They also announced sweeping changes including more rigorous interviews as migrants come into the system.

And McAleenan said a new processing centre would be built in El Paso, Texas, that will be better suited to manage families and children and handle medical care concerns – but it’s not a permanent solution.

“While our enhanced medical efforts will assist in managing the increased flows, the fact is that these solutions are temporary and this solution is not sustainable,” he said.

While fewer people overall are being apprehended crossing the border illegally each year – about 400,000 over the last budget year compared with the high of 1.6 million in 2000, the increasing numbers are alarming, officials said.