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Humanitarian Crisis At The Southern Border Builds, Border Patrol Says


Record numbers of families and unaccompanied children are crossing into the United States, and the number of unauthorized immigrants being picked up by the Border Patrol is also growing. The Border Patrol says it is being overwhelmed. Here's more from NPR's John Burnett.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Preliminary numbers indicate that the humanitarian crisis on the southern border continues and is growing. The Border Patrol apprehended some 60,000 people last month. That's about 12,000 more immigrants than they picked up in January. Put another way, from last October until last week, the Border Patrol had picked up nearly 260,000 people. That's a 90 percent jump over the same five-month period last year. The majority of those being arrested are families and children travelling alone or without a parent. They say they're fleeing criminal gangs and poverty. These preliminary figures come from Joint Task Force-West in San Antonio, which is part of the Homeland Security Department. Its director is veteran border agent Manny Padilla.

MANUEL PADILLA: The entire system right now is at full capacity. Actually, it's overwhelmed. Everything is maxed out, and it's causing a lot of issues because the agents are being assigned to areas that are not border security-related.

BURNETT: Padilla says agents are preoccupied with medical care, feeding and processing the crush of families and children in custody. He says human traffickers leave groups of a hundred or more immigrants at the border while drug traffickers take advantage of the distraction to federal agents. President Trump describes the surge of illegal border crossers from Mexico as an invasion, a chief reason why America needs to extend its border barriers. But Manny Padilla clarifies that asylum-seekers don't try to evade border agents. As soon as they set foot on U.S. soil, they turn themselves in.

PADILLA: So the wall is not going to do anything with this population. This requires a legislative fix.

BURNETT: As temperatures warm in the spring, the number of border crossers traditionally grows even larger from March through May. John Burnett, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018, 2019 and again in 2020, he won national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In 2020, Burnett along with other NPR journalists, were finalists for a duPont-Columbia Award for their coverage of the Trump Administration's Remain in Mexico program. In December 2018, Burnett was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.