Homeland Security officials are on track to apprehend a record number of unaccompanied minors trying to enter the U.S. from Mexico, the Senate Homeland Security chairman suggested on Tuesday.
From the beginning of the fiscal year, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told the committee, officials have apprehended 23,533 unaccompanied minors trying to cross the border.
"I think we're possibly beyond crisis proportions here," said Chairman Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. "Four months and we're up to 23,000 already… 2014 was a crisis, right now I think we're running ahead of 2014 levels," Johnson added.
"If we maintain this pace, we'll have 77,000 in 2016," he said. The record was set in 2014, when Customs and Border Protection reported a total of 68,541 were apprehended at the border.
The Homeland Security head said his agency is nonetheless making progress, saying that 2015 was a "pretty good year." The agency apprehended 39,970 unaccompanied minors last year, though many were part of a surge late in the season.
"I want to compare numbers with you," the secretary said. "We had a pretty good year, it was down significantly from FY14 in terms of total apprehensions along the southwest border.
"In the fall, October, November, December, we saw an increase," he said. "The number was 6,775 in the month of December. In January, the number went down by more than half … to 3,111. In February, 3,113. The March number so far, we're only seven or eight days into March, is pretty much at the same pace as February, slightly higher."
He added, "Much of this is seasonal, so I think we have to assume that March is going to be higher than February and April's probably going to be higher than March, and May, June, July will probably do what it typically does, so we have to assume that we're not going to see numbers as low as 3,100 for the rest of this fiscal year, which is why our budget request assumes 75,000... in 2016," he said.
The Wisconsin senator stood by his concern. "Again, the point being … 2014 was a crisis, right now I think we're running ahead of 2014 levels from the numbers I'm getting," he said.
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., helpfully closed out the exchange with an interjection of his own. "I just ran the numbers quickly, shorthand on the back of an envelope.… We'd be looking at about 57,000," Carper estimated.
The exchange follows a report by the Center for Immigration Studies earlier this week that estimated a record 61 million immigrants and American-born children living in the United States, including 15.7 million doing so illegally.