More than 34,000 illegal immigrants were apprehended entering the U.S. via the southwest border last month, according to new figures from the Department of Homeland Security.
The total of 34,463 apprehensions in June — an indicator of attempted illegal entries — exceeded the 29,388 apprehensions exactly a year ago in June 2015. The number of “family units” or adults traveling with minors as well as unaccompanied minors were also at elevated levels last month.
According to DHS, Border Patrol apprehended 4,809 unaccompanied minors attempting to illegally enter the U.S. in June, more than the 3,833 CBP picked up last June. Another 6,633 “family unit” members were also apprehended illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in June, higher than the 4,042 family units detained last June.
In recent years the southern border has experienced a surge in illegal immigration, largely from Central America. While Democrats and immigration activists have blamed poverty and violence in the migrants’ home countries as the reason for the surge, Republicans and immigration hawks have pointed to amnesty and a general decline in immigration enforcement under the Obama Administration as an enticement for illegal immigration.
As National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd testified before a Senate panel in May, while CBP is apprehending tens of thousands of illegal immigrants each month, the vast majority are simply released back into the U.S.
“We’re releasing basically everybody as long as you’re not from the country of Mexico. And even if you’re from the country of Mexico and you claim that you have a credible fear and you’re asking for asylum for one reason or another — we’re still releasing those individuals,” Judd said.
He added, “If I were to guess, I would say that at least 80 percent of the individuals that the United States Border Patrol arrests at the border qualify for this catch and release program and in essence we are just letting them come into the United States.”
Thursday, DHS Sec. Jeh Johnson acknowledged the higher apprehension numbers but pointed to President Barack Obama’s immigration enforcement priorities — a policy discouraging immigration enforcement against illegal immigrants who have not yet to committed a heinous enough crime — as part of the solution to the ongoing surge.
“We must enforce our immigration laws, and we are doing so consistent with our enforcement priorities,” he said in a statement. “Those priorities, revised as part of the President’s executive actions in November 2014, more sharply focus our limited enforcement resources on public safety and border security. And, those priorities are reflected in actual results. Today, over 99% of those in immigration detention fit within one of these enforcement priorities; and around 85% are within the top priority for removal.”
Johnson also highlighted law enforcement efforts to crack down on transnational criminal organizations that aid in the smuggling of illegal immigrants, the administration’s effort to open alternative avenues for the illegal flow to come to the U.S. legally, and he praised Congress for allocating $750 million for improving conditions in Central America.