The number of unaccompanied children crossing the border in March reached more than 18,500, according to preliminary Customs and Border Protection data obtained by NBC News, smashing the previous record as the Biden administration scrambles to set up new shelters to accommodate them.
The March total is at least 60 percent higher than the previous record of 11,494 in May 2019. The data is still preliminary and may change slightly before its official release.
The figures go back to 2010 when the border patrol began keeping track of how many migrants arrived as unaccompanied minors.
The dramatic increase in unaccompanied children follows the Biden administration’s policy of expelling all migrants except minors who come alone. It has resulted in hundreds of children being held in overcrowded border patrol stations far past the 72-hour legal limit.
Overall encounters with migrants of all ages were at a 20-year high in March, as over 170,000 attempted to cross, according to the preliminary data. Most adults, however, were turned back under Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authority both the Trump and the Biden administrations have used to block migration during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The previous high was set in March 2001 when 172,849 migrants were apprehended by the Border Patrol.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas recently said the Border Patrol was on track to see a 20-year high in border crossings.
However, President Joe Biden has been reluctant to say the traffic of migrants at the border is unusual.
“The truth of the matter is: Nothing has changed,” Biden said in a press conference last week. “It happens every single, solitary year. There is a significant increase in the number of people coming to the border in the winter months of January, February, March. That happens every year.”
The number of families crossing the border in March was more than 52,000, still below the record of 84,526 set in May 2019 under the Trump administration. While many families are sent back under Title 42, an increasing number, especially in the Rio Grande Valley, are allowed to stay in the United States while they await a court decision on their immigration case due to Mexico’s limited capacity to take them back.