Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is projecting that as many as 184,000 unaccompanied children could reach the border in the fiscal year 2021 -- the latest insight into the dramatic and continuing migrant crisis facing the Biden administration.
Two sources familiar with internal data confirmed the estimate to Fox News, with one agent saying: "We’ve never seen anything like this before."
While only a projection, if accurate it would be the highest number of UACs on record, and more than twice the 76,020 encountered during the 2019 border crisis -- during which the Trump administration was hammered for its handling of the crisis and detention of children.
The Biden administration has declined to call the surge in numbers -- set to eclipse the 2019 crisis on multiple metrics -- a "crisis," describing it instead as a "challenge" and blaming the numbers on deteriorating conditions in Central America and the overwhelming situation at the border on the Trump administration’s dismantling of legal asylum pathways.
There are currently nearly 5,000 children in Border Patrol custody and more than 13,000 in Health and Human Services custody. CBP, meanwhile, encountered more than 100,000 migrants in February, and that number is expected to have risen in March.
President Biden has also downplayed the number of migrants coming to the border.
"The truth of the matter is nothing has changed," he said at a recent press conference. "It happens every single, solitary year: There is a significant increase in the number of people coming to the border in the winter months of January, February, March. That happens every year."
Republicans have insisted that it is a crisis, and blamed it on the rolling back by Biden of Trump-era border protections such as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), which kept migrants in Mexico while they awaited their hearings, and asylum cooperative agreements signed with Northern Triangle countries. His administration has also limited Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) priorities and halted construction of the border wall.
There has been increased scrutiny of the administration’s handling of child migrants in recent days as both Republicans and journalists toured the facility in Donna, Texas, which is at 1700 percent capacity and images showed migrants packed in tiny "pods."
Separately, shocking video emerged this week of a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old being dropped over a border barrier by smugglers at the New Mexico border.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, asked about the video, say that Thursday that "our concern and our focus is on sending a clear message to smugglers -- to the region that this is not the time to come."
"You should not send your kids on this treacherous journey. That these smugglers are preying on vulnerabilities in these communities," she said. "There’s a lot of issues and steps we need to take to address root causes."