There was an increase in the number of illegal immigrants apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border last month, however the number of apprehended unaccompanied minors and “family units” remained stable compared to the month of January, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
In February, according to the newly released data, Border Patrol apprehend 26,078 individuals attempting to enter the U.S. illegally. That’s an increase of about 10 percent over January’s apprehension numbers. The government views apprehensions as indicative of total attempted illegal border crossings.
Additionally, after hitting shocking levels in November and December, the number of unaccompanied minors and groups traveling as families apprehended in February were at the same, lower level as January with 3,113 unaccompanied minors and 3,048 family members detained illegally entering the U.S.
DHS Sec. Jeh Johnson, in a statement, pointed to the apprehension of singe adults from Mexico as the primary source of the elevated total apprehension level from 17,505 in January to 19,917 in February.
Johnson further highlighted recent, stepped-up enforcement efforts to remove illegal immigrants in the U.S. who were initially apprehended at the border during or after 2014. The first of these limited actions took place at the beginning of January with just 121 illegal immigrants family units with final orders of removal apprehended. Since January 23, Johnson said, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has embarked on a slightly broader effort called “Operation Border Guardian” which has netted 336 illegal immigrants.
“The focus of [Operation Border Guardian] are those who came here illegally as unaccompanied children after January 1, 2014, and are now over 18, have been ordered removed by an immigration court, and have no pending appeal or claim of asylum or other relief,” Johnson explained. “Others who are priorities for removal have been apprehended as part of this operation.”
Johnson added that immigration enforcement officials will not apprehend any illegal immigrant, save for an emergency, “at a place of worship, a school, a hospital or doctor’s office or other sensitive location.”
So far this fiscal year, which started on October 1, ICE has repatriated 28,808 individuals to Central America and ICE and Border Patrol have repatriated or returned 128,000 people to Mexico.
“Since October 1, there have been a total of 290 removal flights to Central America,” Johnson added. “We are working with the Mexican government to increase the number of removal flights there from two to three flights per week. On February 23, we entered into new agreements with the Mexican government for the more efficient repatriation of adults, and safe and timely repatriation of families and unaccompanied children.”
While Johnson explained that the department is looking to deport small, select groups of illegal immigrants per the Obama administration’s limited priorities for enforcement, it is also attempting to increase the amount of access illegal immigrants have to counsel during deportation proceedings.
We support improving the process for all those in immigration proceedings and have requested over $17 million as part of the President’s FY17 budget request to support critical initiatives that provide legal assistance services to vulnerable immigrants, including $2 million for Justice AmeriCorps – a program that specifically provides legal representation to unaccompanied minors,” he said. “We need every element of the court process to work effectively to accomplish the goal of both honoring humanitarian claims and processing those who do not qualify for relief.