Border encounters top 100,000 in February as migrant crisis spirals

The Biden administration has called the numbers 'overwhelming'

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Law enforcement at the border encountered more than 100,000 migrants at the border in February, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced Wednesday, as the Biden administration faces a dramatically escalating crisis – and admits the numbers are "overwhelming."

CBP encountered 100,441 individuals in February, a 28 percent increase over January, the agency said. Of those, 19,246 individuals were in family units; 9,457 were unaccompanied children (UACs) and 71,598 were single adults.

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So far, encounters in FY 2021 to date is 97 percent higher than FY 2020 and 24 percent higher than FY 2019 -- when there was a crisis at the border. In FY 2021 through February, officials encountered 29,792 UACs and single minors -- over 3,000 of these children are under age of 12 and 26,850 are aged 13 to 17. 

A source told Fox News earlier that more than 70% of those encountered were expelled via the Title 42 public health order that allows authorities to quickly return migrants to country of travel. Activist groups have urged the administration to end Title 42 expulsions, but so far it has not done so.

The numbers are the latest sign that the surge in migrants risks turning into a tidal wave by the time peak migration season hits later this year. In the 2019 border crisis, the height was in May when agents encountered 144,000 migrants. In February that year, apprehensions were at 76,000 and 57,000 in January.

Acting CBP Commissioner Troy Miller said on a call with reporters that the administration is "moving as fast as we can" to rebuild the immigration system but warned "this is going to take time." 

"The border is not open -- do not believe human smugglers who tell you otherwise," he said.

Meanwhile drug seizures are up 50 percent from Jan. 2021. While fentanyl seizures were down slightly in February, Miller noted a "dramatic" 360 percent increase in seizures compared to this time last year.

The administration has been scrambling to deal with a migrant crisis and has seen a spike in child migrants – the number of migrant children in custody along the border has tripled in the past two weeks to more than 3,250. Meanwhile, it has been opening more facilities, including looking at opening a Virginia military base – and ending capacity limits due to COVID-19.

The administration has come under fire from Republicans, who have said the dramatic reversal of Trump-era policies has incentivized migrants to come north, and made the U.S. less able to handle the surge

Biden’s administration has ended policies like the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), which kept migrants south of the border while waiting for their hearings – as well as asylum agreements with Northern Triangle countries. It has also narrowed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) priorities for arrests and deportations. Meanwhile, the White House has proposed a sweeping immigration bill that will grant a pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants. 

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The administration has denied there is a crisis, calling it a "challenge" instead – although DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas this week admitted the numbers were "overwhelming" and asked staff to volunteer to help CBP.

It has also been trying to spread the message that the border is not open, and that migrants should not make the journey.

"We are not saying, ‘Don’t come,’" Mayorkas said last week. "We are saying, ‘Don’t come now because we will be able to deliver a safe and orderly process to them as quickly as possible.'"

Miller, asked by reporters why there was a surge, cited "unparalelled" economic instability, the pandemic, hurricanes, violence and unemployment in their home countries.

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‘Put all those issues together and you are going to see folks who are looking for a better way of life," he said.

Roberta Jackson, the special coordinator for the southern border, on Tuesday repeated the claim that the border was "not open," adding that part of the plan was to fund measures with a $4 billion package that would tackle the "root causes" of migration.

Asked if it was a coincidence that the surge coincided with Biden-era policies, Jackson said migrants were responding to "hope."

"There was a hope for a more humane policy after four years of pent up demand, so I don't know if I would call that a coincidence but the idea that a more humane policy would be in place would have driven people to make that decision, but more importantly it definitely drove smugglers to express disinformation, spread disinformation about what was now possible," she said at a White House press briefing.

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Republicans, however, have blamed the administration squarely for the crisis. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on the Senate floor that Mayorkas and the administration was "failing" at the border, and took issue with his warning for migrants that now was not the time to travel.

"Now is not the time to come? Well when is the right time to break federal law? There is going to be a good time and people need to just be patient and wait for their signal?" he asked. "What on earth are they talking about?"

Fox News' Peter Hasson and John Roberts contributed to this report.