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More Than 170,000 Migrants Taken Into Custody At Southwest Border In March

A group of migrants from El Salvador arrives in Roma, Texas, after crossing the Rio Grande on March 30, 2021 in Roma, Texas.
Joe Raedle
Getty Images
A group of migrants from El Salvador arrives in Roma, Texas, after crossing the Rio Grande on March 30, 2021 in Roma, Texas.

More than 170,000 migrants were taken into custody at the Southwest border in March, the highest monthly total since at least 2006, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials who have been briefed on the preliminary numbers but are not authorized to speak publicly.

The numbers are still being finalized and could change, the officials said. The number of migrants encountered at the border, including families as well as unaccompanied children and teenagers, has been increasing in recent months. In February, CBP reportedmore than 100,000 encounters.

A CBP official also said Border Patrol agents have seen an increase in what they call "got aways," or unauthorized immigrants who are detected crossing the border by surveillance cameras but who agents have not been able to apprehend.

The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said the number of "got aways" has risen to about 1,000 a day. Agents say they are being diverted from enforcement operations to process the rising number of migrants in custody.

Border Patrol facilities have been overwhelmed by the increase, and the Biden administration has been rushing to open new facilities to process the migrants. CBP announcedFriday the opening of a 90,000-square-foot processing facility in Eagle Pass, Texas.

Children and teenagers arriving without their parents are being allowed into the U.S. But many of the migrants are being turned back under Title 42, the health order implementedby the Trump administration aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus, and some of the increase in recent months includes migrants crossing more than once.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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.
Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.