The number of unauthorized border-crossers apprehended along the U.S.-Mexico frontier increased sharply in May, federal officials announced Wednesday, as the country grapples with an unprecedented level of children and families entering the U.S. without papers.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported that its agents detained 132,887 people who crossed without authorization last month, a 33% increase over April.
The uptick is most notable for families, most of whom are from the Northern Triangle countries: El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Of the 56,278 unaccompanied children taken into CBP custody from October 2018 through May 2019, 85% are from those three Central American states.
For the 332,981 families traveling together across the border who were detained by CBP so far this fiscal year, 94% were from the Northern Triangle.
On a call with reporters to announce the May statistics on Wednesday, two top CBP officials - including the agency's Acting Commissioner John Sanders - attributed the increase in children crossing the border to a "message being received back in the Northern Triangle" that adults are choosing to cross with children in the hope of securing a faster release from U.S. custody to await their immigration hearings.
Sanders said that was, in his "opinion," one of the motivators for families.
Asked whether there was data to support the commissioner's assertion that this was a "pull factor" in attracting Central Americans, a CBP spokesperson said it was based on 'interviews of individuals in our custody, smugglers advertising in the Northern Triangle, and word of mouth and social media messaging from individuals who are released.'
The reasons for cross-border migration are varied. They can include social, political and economic factors in both the travelers' home countries and the United States.
U.S. President Donald Trump regularly chides Mexico for failing to stop migrants from transiting through the country to the U.S. border. He said last week that Washington would impose an escalating series of tariffs on Mexico, starting next week, over the migration issue.
The U.S. government says it is struggling to meet the demands from the increase in children and families arriving at the border without authorization.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that the U.S. agency tasked with caring for unaccompanied minors who cross the border is 'canceling English classes, recreational programs, and legal aid for unaccompanied minors staying in federal migrant shelters nationwide, saying the immigration influx at the southern border has created critical budget pressures.'