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Apprehensions of migrant families rise dramatically along southern border

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Washington — U.S. immigration authorities apprehended more than 76,000 migrants — including about 36,000 families — along the southwestern border last month, making it the busiest February for border officials in the last 12 years, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced Tuesday.

According to the newly-released CBP data, there were a total of 76,325 apprehensions along the U.S.-Mexico border in February, including 36,174 families and 6,825 unaccompanied minors. 

The number of family apprehensions is the fourth record-setting figure in five months for the Trump administration, which has focused on deterring asylum seekers and migrants from Central America. In September, 16,658 families were detained along the southern border, followed by 23,115 in October, 25,164 in November, 27,507 in December and 24,189 in January. 

"The system is well beyond capacity and remains at the breaking point," CBP commissioner Kevin McAleenan said during a press conference Tuesday afternoon. 

McAleenan said one of the catalysts of the surge has been large groups of Central American migrants heading towards the U.S. So far in fiscal year 2019, he said U.S. officials have encountered 70 groups of more than 100 migrants each. In comparison, immigration authorities spotted 13 of these large groups in 2018 and just two in 2017, McAleenan added.

The commissioner also noted that migrants from Guatemala are traveling through Mexico and to its border with the U.S. at faster rates because of buses. 

The record high numbers of migrant family apprehensions suggest the Trump administration's hardline deterrence efforts — including its discontinued family separation practice and its "remain in Mexico" policy to turn away asylum seekers at points of entry while their cases are processed in U.S. courts — have largely failed to quell the recent heavy flow of migration from Central America. 

Thousands of migrants continue to undertake the dangerous journey north, hoping to secure asylum in the U.S. and flee the gang conflict, gender-based violence and widespread poverty in the Northern Triangle, comprised of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

Echoing President Trump — who was briefed on the situation at the border on Tuesday by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) secretary Kirstjen Nielsen — McAleenan stressed that the large migration flows are fueling a "border security" and "humanitarian" crisis.

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