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U.S. border officials grapple with record-breaking December migrant arrivals

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U.S. immigration officials have faced an unprecedented challenge this December as they track a surge in migrant arrivals along the southern border, with internal government data revealing projections of over 300,000 processed individuals. This alarming figure, the highest monthly tally on record, is anticipated to include a substantial number of families traveling with children.

The surge underscores the culmination of a three-year-long crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, straining resources in both small and large communities, leaving migrants in limbo, and prompting lawmakers to consider significant changes to asylum policies. President Biden faces a notable political vulnerability as he seeks reelection amid the escalating situation.

Border Patrol agents at the Mexican border are expected to apprehend a quarter of a million migrants entering the country illegally, while official ports of entry are set to process around 50,000 arrivals under the Biden administration’s appointment system. This marks an unprecedented level of activity for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, surpassing previous records dating back to fiscal year 2000.

Preliminary Department of Homeland Security statistics for the first 28 days of December indicate an average daily apprehension rate of 8,400 migrants crossing illegally between ports of entry. If this pace continues, Border Patrol is on track to report approximately 260,000 apprehensions this month, setting a new record.

The surge is particularly challenging due to the high number of family arrivals, with nearly 96,000 migrant parents and children processed through December 28. This puts Border Patrol on course to match or surpass the 103,000 family member apprehensions recorded in September, posing unique challenges given legal limits on the detention of minors.

Notably, the spike in illegal crossings in December is attributed, in part, to an increase in Venezuelan arrivals. The internal data reveals that Border Patrol processed 50,000 Venezuelan migrants entering the country illegally, compared to 23,000 the previous month.

The Biden administration’s border strategy, aimed at reducing illegal crossings, faces its most significant test yet. Programs diverting migrants to legal entry channels and imposing penalties for bypassing them have struggled to cope with the overwhelming migration flows. The administration’s approach includes smartphone app-based appointments for migrants in Mexico and allowing select migrants from specific countries to fly to U.S. airports with financial sponsors.

Despite the administration’s efforts, a backlog of asylum claims and a shortage of resources have led to most migrants entering the U.S. illegally being released with court notices. The immigration court system, with fewer than 800 immigration judges overseeing 3 million pending cases, faces significant challenges in handling the situation effectively.

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