- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 24, 2019

The number of illegal immigrants who showed up at the U.S. border in need of medical attention has soared in recent weeks, even as the number of large groups has also surged.

Both trends are proving to be serious impediments to Border Patrol agents, who say they’re being taken offline watch duties to either shepherd the sick as they go to the hospital, or have to process the groups of people — leaving other parts of the border unsecured.

In one large group of 247 people, 50 of them had to be taken to the hospital, requiring nearly every available agent to leave the field to tag along.

“Smugglers and traffickers then use these large groups as ‘cover’ while USBP resources are utilized to arrest and [for] detention-related duties associated with the large groups,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection said.

The Washington Times has been tracking the large groups since last year, when the phenomenon really began in earnest.

Agents at the time said it harkened back to the worst days of the late 1990s and early 2000s, when massive columns of migrants would march across the border.

Those were mostly Mexican males, who figured if they got caught and turned back, they would just try again.

Now, the surge is mostly families or unaccompanied children from Central America.

CBP said that since Oct. 1, the start of the fiscal year, some 53 large groups — defined as 100 or more migrants traveling together — were encountered, totaling nearly 8,800 people.

Of those, nearly 85 percent were families and another 11.5 percent were children traveling alone.

All but a few dozen of the migrants who came in groups were from three Central American nations: Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

The numbers were released just hours before the Senate was to vote on a new immigration plan from President Trump that would combine a deportation amnesty for 1 million migrants already in the U.S. with $5.7 billion in border wall construction and changes to encourage children to apply for asylum from their homes in Central America rather than make the dangerous journey north.

“There is an urgent humanitarian and security crisis at the Southern border that requires action today,” said Katie Waldman, Homeland Security spokeswoman. “Every day that Congress fails to act, this crisis continues to grow and endanger the security of our nation and puts family units and unaccompanied alien children at risk.”

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

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