Historically high numbers of people are illegally entering the U.S., straining an immigration system already overwhelmed by the number of families coming across the border to request asylum. Border agents made 2.05 million arrests in the federal fiscal year that ended in September, new government data show, the second year in a row that figure has exceeded two million. In the past, the numbers have risen and fallen based on significant economic and policy changes like recessions and pandemic-era border restrictions. They never exceeded 1.7 million and never stayed at an elevated level as long as they have the past few years, reports the Wall Street Journal. The record numbers of people entering the country illegally aren’t the only reason border communities are struggling in Texas and shelters are full as far away as Massachusetts. In the past, most migrants were single adults from Mexico looking for work.
If caught by the Border Patrol, they could easily and quickly be deported. Now, a fast-growing share are families with children, who are difficult to deport to their home countries. The change started around 2014 and has exploded in the past two years. Many families are fleeing gang violence in Central America, though recently a growing number are escaping political repression and poverty in South America. After crossing into the U.S., they typically surrender to the first border agent they find. Smugglers encourage adults to travel with children, telling them they are likely to be quickly released into the U.S. because the Border Patrol doesn’t have the capacity to hold families for more than a day or two. Once released, they can wait years for their cases to be processed in clogged immigration courts. Some initially stay in shelters, taxing resources in places such as Chicago and New York as numbers have grown recently. But most eventually find jobs in a U.S. economy that has recovered from the COVID-19 downturn more robustly than Latin America.