Illegal Immigration By Family Units Surges To Highest-Ever August Total

REUTERS/Adrees Latif

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
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Illegal immigration by families hit a monthly record in August as thousands of migrant families poured across the southwest border in what the Trump administration is calling a “crisis” situation.

A combined total of 16,476 people traveling in family units were either detained along the border or found to be inadmissible at ports of entry in August, according to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) figures released Wednesday.

Of those, 12,774 were apprehended trying to sneak across the border illegally, between ports of entry. Such arrests have historically been used as proxy for illegal immigration with the idea that — assuming a given standard of border security — more apprehensions mean more people are trying to slip undetected into the U.S.

The number of migrants arrested while traveling in family units in August was 38 percent higher than in July, when there 9,258 people arrested. It was also the highest total ever recorded in August and about three times higher than in the same month in 2017, according to CBP.

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials attributed the surge in illegal immigration by families to court-imposed policies that prevent the government from detaining adults and children together for long periods of time. The restrictions give migrant parents an incentive to bring children across the border illegally, according to DHS spokesman Tyler Houlton.

“Smugglers and traffickers understand our broken immigration laws better than most and know that if a family unit illegally enters the U.S. they are likely to be released into the interior,” Houlton said in a statement.

“Specifically, DHS is required to release families entering the country illegally within 20 days of apprehension,” he added, referring to a provision of the Flores settlement, a federal court order that governs immigration detention.

First handed down in 1997, Flores requires the government to release unaccompanied alien children (UAC) from detention to relatives or licensed shelters without unnecessary delay.

Federal Judge Dolly Gee ruled in 2015 that Flores also applied to children apprehended while traveling in family units. As part of the ruling, Gee established a 20-day maximum period that children could remain in immigration detention with their parents.

The Trump administration has sought to overturn that provision, arguing the order’s special treatment of migrant families encourages illegal immigration across the southwest border. But Gee denied the government’s request to modify her Flores ruling in June, prompting the administration to pursue the matter via regulatory changes. (RELATED: DHS Rolls Out Plan To Close ‘Flores’ Loophole)

Under a proposal posted to the Federal Register on Friday, the government would be able to self-license family detention centers, making it easier to keep families in detention for the entirety of their immigration court proceedings.

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