The nation’s top border security official said Wednesday that the border is at its "breaking point" during a visit to Texas, where as many as 1,000 migrants crossed into the U.S. and there are not enough agents to respond.
"That breaking point has arrived this week at our border," U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan said along the border. "CBP is facing an unprecedented humanitarian and border security crisis all along our Southwest border, and nowhere has that crisis manifested more acutely than here in El Paso."
McAleenan said the Border Patrol is on pace for over 100,000 apprehensions and encounters with migrants – mostly from Central America seeking asylum in the U.S. On Monday, agents encountered an estimated 4,000 migrants border-wide, he said.
In February, more than 76,000 migrants were detained, the highest number in 12 years. That figure includes more than 7,000 unaccompanied children. More than 36,000 migrant families have arrived in the El Paso region in fiscal year 2019 compared with about 2,000 at the same time last year, according to CBP data, the El Paso Times reported. The influx is posing new challenges for border agents.
Some arrive with viruses, such as the flu or chickenpox, and others with injuries. McAleenan said crowded detention centers could worsen the situation.
"We are doing everything we can to simply avoid a tragedy in a CBP facility," he said. "But with these numbers, with the types of illnesses we're seeing at the border, I fear that it's just a matter of time."
About 750 border agents have been reassigned from other ports to El Paso and highway security checkpoints in West Texas and New Mexico will temporarily shut down. The reassignments could mean longer wait times at border crossings and may affect trade between the U.S. and Mexico as fewer agents will be available to inspect cargo and normal border traffic.
Immigration-rights advocates have called the situation along the border a humanitarian crisis. They push back at President Trump's national emergency declaration to fund his long-promised border wall. The Pentagon on Monday, authorized the transfer of $1 billion to erect 57 miles of "pedestrian fencing" along the border.
"There is no need for a national emergency, no need for costly and ineffective walls, or programs that criminalize and dehumanize asylum seekers," Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights, said in a statement to the Dallas Morning News.
McAleenan said the only solution is for Congress to act.
"Legislative relief, changes in the law and closing the vulnerabilities in our legal framework is the only way this flow is going to be reduced and we're going to be able to restore integrity to our immigration system," he said.