By Geneva Sands and Priscilla Alvarez, CNN
(CNN) — More people have been apprehended illegally crossing the US-Mexico border this year than in any year since 2009, according to new statistics released by Customs and Border Protection.
As of early May, the US Border Patrol has apprehended around 493,000 people for illegally crossing into the US from the southern border so far this fiscal year.
“This trend shows no signs of slowing down,” a Department of Homeland Security official told reporters.
In 2009, agents made 540,865 apprehensions on the southern border for the full fiscal year. Every year since then, apprehensions have remained below the half-million mark.
Since the beginning of April, nearly 132,000 people have been apprehended by Border Patrol agents.
“What makes these numbers so dramatically different than anything we’ve ever faced in the history of Border Patrol is the demographic,” the official said. There continue to be record numbers of families and children arriving predominantly from the Northern triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, with over 58,000 family members apprehended on the southern border in April.
Around 8,800 unaccompanied children were also taken into custody last month.
The high numbers and demographic makeup of migrants arriving at the border are causing “dire concerns,” said the official.
According to the official, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Health and Human Services, which is tasked with caring for unaccompanied migrant children, lack sufficient bed space to keep up with the apprehensions, forcing migrants to be held for extended periods in short-term holding facilities.
“This is dangerously elevating the time in custody and poses serious, significant safety risks” to agents as well as migrants, said the official.
Additionally, the Border Patrol has released over 32,000 family members to nongovernmental organizations and at bus stations.
“We know that the continued release of family units will only continue to increase the pull factors, however, we have no other options,” said the DHS official, who added that “single adult bed space is now a critical issue.”
Similarly, ICE has released 168,000 family members from its custody since Dec. 21, 2018, and has surged personnel and resources to assist with the border mission.
“This shift obviously has a negative impact on our public safety efforts,” ICE acting Director Matthew Albence said Tuesday. “Unfortunately, those officers are no longer there to take custody of these individuals or make these arrests.”
Albence said that ICE’s “most meaningful” civil immigration enforcement statistics are all down by double digits this year as a result.
“In fact our convicted criminal arrests are down 14%, as a direct result of having to support what’s going on at the border. While we keep talking about this being a border crisis, it’s really more than that. It’s a crisis for this entire country,” he added.
To address the influx, Customs and Border Protection has also shifted “large portions” of personnel and resources to the southern border, including 545 customs officers from ports of entry and 325 agents from other locations.
Currently, 40% to 60% of Border Patrol manpower is dedicated to the care, feeding, processing and hospital watch of migrants, according to DHS officials.
Border Patrol has also canceled training, increased overtime hours, brought agents back from “valuable task forces” and shut down checkpoints.
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