- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Border Patrol agents are getting “hammered” by a new surge of illegal immigration into Texas, the agency’s chief told Congress on Tuesday as new numbers showed a massive influx in August, defying the usual pattern of a late-summer slowdown.

The worst of the new surge is coming in the form of families traveling together — usually mothers and children fleeing violence and poverty in Central America and trying to reunite with relatives already living in the U.S., often illegally. Nearly 10,000 people were nabbed by agents traveling as families in August alone, marking a 24 percent spike over the previous month.

All told, more than 68,000 “family units,” as the Border Patrol calls them, have been caught so far in fiscal year 2016, and with a month still to go it’s almost certain the previous record, set in 2014, will be shattered.

Analysts say the families are being pushed out of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador by criminal gangs and by a lack of jobs, and are being enticed into the U.S. by reports of lax enforcement and the promise of a quick release from detention if they claim asylum.

The situation is so bad that an administration lawyer told a federal appeals court this summer that adult illegal immigrants are kidnapping children as they make their way north, so they can pose as families and earn easier treatment here.

Illegal immigration is also rising among youths traveling alone — the so-called “unaccompanied alien children,” or UAC, in Border Patrol parlance, who brought new attention to the porous border in 2014. While not as bad as that year, the number of unaccompanied children caught so far this year is more than 54,000, with about 5,800 of them being nabbed in August.

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The vast majority of the UAC and family traffic is going through the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, where Border Patrol agents are overwhelmed.

“They’re just getting hammered right now with the inflow and the influx of folks crossing,” Border Patrol Chief Mark Morgan testified to Congress on Tuesday.

Across the southwest border, nearly 370,000 illegal immigrants have been apprehended in the first 11 months of the fiscal year. That easily surpasses the total for all of 2015, though it’s still likely to end up well shy of the 2014 level.

That previous surge reshuffled the immigration debate in the U.S. Republicans said it derailed efforts to pass a broad legalization, forcing Mr. Obama to act on his own, proposing a deportation amnesty he hoped would grant work permits and other taxpayer-style benefits to as many as 5 million illegal immigrants.

Federal courts halted that plan, and it sparked a backlash that helped propel Donald Trump to the GOP’s presidential nomination this year.

The administration argues that the pace of illegal immigration has slowed dramatically from the peak around the turn of the century, when more than 1 million people were caught every year at the southwest border.

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A massive influx of manpower and technology on the border, combined with the economic slowdown a decade ago, cut the flow of Mexicans.

But Central Americans have begun to cross in larger numbers, posing tougher challenges for border officials.

Many of the Central Americans make asylum claims, and those are more time-consuming and tougher to adjudicate than rank-and-file illegal immigrants.

Chief Morgan, who has been on the job for only a couple of months, said in his visits to the border he saw one group of children that included a six-year-old girl traveling with her 11-year-old brother — what he called a humanitarian situation.

He said there needs to be another way to handle them that doesn’t involved forcing his agents to spend time processing and guarding them.

“Instead of taking agents that have been trained, have a national security mission, should be on the front line, I’m taking them off the front line a lot to process a 6-year-old, an 11-year-old, as part of the humanitarian mission,” he said.

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

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