The United States is on pace to face more immigrants arriving at its southern border with Mexico than in 20 years, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said on Tuesday.
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the number of arrivals has been on a steady rise since April 2020, and that the majority of migrant families and single adults are being turned away.
“We are on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years,” Mayorkas said in a statement adding that the majority of arrivals are being expelled under Title 42, a Trump-era provision that cites the pandemic as the basis to allow the swift expulsion of asylum seekers.
“Pursuant to that authority under Title 42 of the United States Code, single adults from Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are swiftly expelled to Mexico,” according to the statement.
“Single adults from other countries are expelled by plane to their countries of origin if Mexico does not accept them,” he said.
During a television interview with ABC News’s Good Morning America programme, Mayorkas said the expulsions are necessary to ensure that the “border is secure”.
“In order to keep the American people safe in the time of pandemic, we are expelling families under the CDC’s authority,” he said. “We are expelling single adults and what we are doing is addressing young children who come to the border to make claims under the humanitarian laws that our country has established years ago.”
Last week, the DHS said more than 100,441 migrants attempted to cross the border in February alone, the highest since 2019. And 9,297 unaccompanied children were encountered at the US-Mexico border in February, according to official figures.
On Saturday, Mayorkas announced that the US would deploy the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to respond to the growing humanitarian and political crisis on the border, with food, water and basic medical care.
US President Joe Biden has made reversing Trump’s anti-immigration policy a cornerstone of his administration. He halted the building of the separation wall with Mexico, and stopped a programme that forced asylum seekers to wait for their court dates in Mexico.
But in recent weeks he has faced a rise in accusations from Republicans that his tone and change in policies is encouraging migrants to make the journey north.
Mayorkas and other Biden administration officials say four years under the Trump administration have undermined the US’s capacity to process asylum seekers in a safe and humane fashion and they have inherited a “broken” immigration system.
Mayorkas also charged that rising poverty, violence, and corruption in Central American countries have been the main drivers of migration for years.
“Two damaging hurricanes that hit Honduras and swept through the region made the living conditions there even worse,” Mayorkas said in the statement, “causing more children and families to flee.”
During the interview, Mayorkas added that the US is currently building its capacity to address the needs of unaccompanied children who continue to arrive and “critically sending an important message that this is not the time to come to the border”.