- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Illegal immigration across the Southwest border ticked down in December, though the number of migrant families shattered records with nearly 32,000 caught trying to jump the border, officials said Wednesday.

The numbers were fueled by migrant caravans and other changes to the way migrants travel the route from Central America through Mexico to the U.S. border.

The Department of Homeland Security said 31,901 parents and children traveling together were nabbed by Border Patrol agents, marking a 27 percent increase over November and nearly twice the worst months of the Obama years.

But other categories of immigrants trying to cross illegally dropped, with fewer unaccompanied children caught at the border or stopped at the ports of entry, Homeland Security said.

The department released the numbers a day after President Trump delivered his first Oval Office address, asking Congress to pony up money for more border security, including more than $5 billion to erect border fencing.

On Thursday, Mr. Trump will travel to McAllen, Texas, to get a look at the border sector that has been most heavily affected by the recent surge of illegal immigration.

“We need border security, very simple,” the president said at the Capitol on Wednesday, where he was rallying Republicans to hold firm on the government shutdown triggered by his demand for $5 billion in border wall money.

Democrats argue that the borders are mostly secure and that the ports of entry are the places that need shoring up.

The new numbers, however, showed that 84 percent of immigrants who were caught trying to enter illegally in December came between the ports of entry, where agents say fencing and more personnel would help.

Agents arrested 50,753 people who tried to sneak into the U.S. between the ports of entry, while Customs and Border Protection officers encountered another 10,029 people who tried to enter without permission through official border crossings.

Both numbers are down slightly from November, when 51,856 migrants were caught jumping the border between the ports and 10,600 were nabbed at the crossings.

The numbers show the massive changes in illegal immigration over the last 10 to 15 years.

While adult male Mexicans made up nearly all immigrants who illegally crossed the border in the last decade, a staggering 72 percent of those caught by the Border Patrol last month were families or unaccompanied children.

As recently as January 2014, that share had been just 20 percent.

The Trump administration says the families are being enticed by “loopholes” in U.S. laws that give more lenient treatment to parents who arrive with children. Under a series of court rulings, they have to be processed and quickly released, giving them a chance to disappear into the shadows and live in the U.S. illegally.

An 8-year-old Guatemalan boy who died on the border Christmas Eve was a victim of that loophole, with his parents saying they figured the father would have a better chance of gaining an illegal foothold in the U.S. if he brought the child with him on the journey.

The family said the father was looking for work here.

Democrats, though, say most of the families showing up should be considered asylum-seekers fleeing poverty and gang violence in their home countries.

The surge of families has brought new problems for the Border Patrol, including a higher rate of sick immigrants.

After the death of the 8-year-old boy and a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl earlier in December, Homeland Security enlisted the Coast Guard and public health agencies to conduct thorough medical checks of all children in its custody.

Some 50 people a day were deemed in need of medical care for cases ranging from flu and tuberculosis to infections and even pregnant women who gave birth in custody.

Officials say cartels have begun to use charter buses to drive migrants straight from Central America to the U.S., cutting the journey from four weeks to four or five days, making it more accessible for ailing people who couldn’t have made the journey otherwise.

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