- The Washington Times - Friday, June 17, 2016

The number of illegal immigrant families jumping the border this fiscal year has already topped all of 2015, according to Homeland Security Department statistics released Friday that show the administration’s border problems continue to grow.

Some 6,788 people traveling as families were caught on the southwestern border in May — more than 20 percent over April.

That puts the total for the first eight months of the fiscal year at nearly 45,000, well above the 2015 yearlong total of fewer than 40,000 but short of the record pace in 2014, when a massive surge exposed gaping holes in the U.S. immigration system.

Federal and local authorities have struggled to explain the latest surge in families, but a government attorney told a federal judge this month that the Obama administration’s lax enforcement policies, set in part by the courts, have enticed more people to make the harrowing journey.

The Justice Department’s immigration law specialist told the judge that illegal immigrants are abducting children on their trip north, hoping to pose as families to take advantage of the lax policies.

Overall immigration — including families, children traveling alone and the more traditional adult illegal immigration — is up dramatically compared with 2015, powered by a major spike over the winter and steady increases in the spring.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson visited Central America, where most of the children and families originate, to try to urge would-be migrants to stay home.

In a statement Friday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection placed the blame for the surge on “push factors” in Central America but did not mention U.S. policies that are enticing migration.

“We continue to work aggressively to address the underlying causes of illegal migration, to deter future increases, to further secure our border, and to support broader regional efforts to provide avenues for protection of vulnerable populations in Central America,” CBP said in the statement.

CBP said it has deported some 50,000 people back to Central America so far in fiscal year 2016 — though the figures show that means the agency is falling behind, with nearly 60,000 unaccompanied children and families having been caught so far this year. That figure doesn’t include regular adults, who would show an even larger backlog.

Overall, illegal immigration on the southwestern border — including all children and adults — is far below the massive flows of the late 1990s and early 2000s, when well more than 1 million people were caught attempting to cross.

The Border Patrol says the number caught is a good proxy for the total flow, so a lower number means fewer are attempting the journey and fewer are getting through the border.

In 2015, only slightly more than 330,000 were caught on the southwestern border, notching the lowest total since the 1970s. This year is almost certain to be higher, with some 264,192 caught through the first eight months of the fiscal year.

The patterns have also shifted from the 1990s and 2000s, when Mexicans accounted for the vast majority of illegal immigrants caught. Central Americans are now a bigger factor, with Salvadorans, Guatemalans and Hondurans making up a large part of the surge.

Immigrant rights groups say the Central Americans should be considered refugees, not illegal immigrants, arguing that they are fleeing devastating poverty and crime that make life untenable in their home countries.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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