The unaccompanied children and teenagers detained at the border nearly doubled in March compared with the previous month, according to documents obtained by The New York Times.
Altogether, border officials encountered more than 170,000 migrants in March, a nearly 70 percent increase from February and the highest monthly total since 2006. Officials advised that the statistics are preliminary and an official count will likely be released next week.
More than 18,700 children and teenagers were taken into custody after crossing the border, including at port entries, in March, nearly double the roughly 9,450 minors detained in February. Just 3,490 minors crossed in February of last year.
Border officials also encountered more than 53,000 migrants traveling as families in March, up from roughly 19,250 in the prior month, according to the documents, even as the Biden administration struggled to safely process thousands of minors already held in border detention centers. The pace of crossings by migrant families is similar to numbers in 2019, when the Trump administration struggled to safely process a surge of Central American families fleeing poverty and persecution.
President Biden has left a Trump-era pandemic emergency rule in place empowering agents to rapidly turn away migrants at the border without providing the chance to ask for asylum, but the administration has not applied the sweeping restriction to unaccompanied minors. Faced with criticism from Republicans that Mr. Biden has not asserted control at the border, administration officials have repeatedly cited the use of the rule against single adults and families.
But a majority of the families crossing the border are now being taken into custody and subsequently released into the United States because of restricted capacity in facilities on both sides of the southwest border, according to government documents and homeland security officials.
To relieve overcrowding in border detention facilities, border agents are now releasing many families at bus stations along the border, including some without full information for their upcoming court appearances, according to officials.
The administration has attributed the inability to expel families to a change in Mexican law that prohibits the detention of small children. Authorities in Mexico have also refused the expulsions because of restricted space in shelters where they could house the families.