Record 144,000 people detained at US-Mexico border in May

The number of people entering the US from Mexico illegally has skyrocketed, with more than 144,000 detained or turned away just last month. Overwhelmed US authorities are cutting back on non-essential services at migrant shelters.

US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) statistics for May 2019, released on Wednesday, show 132,887 were apprehended after crossing the border illegally, and another 11,391 were declared inadmissible under US laws, for a total of 144,258 people.

That is a 32 percent increase from April, but nearly triple the number from May last year (51,800) and a stunning sevenfold increase from May 2017.

Current totals for fiscal year 2019 look even more daunting, with 676,315 people apprehended or deemed inadmissible in just eight months, compared to 396,579 in the entire FY2018.

The drastic increase in numbers has strained US government capabilities beyond the breaking point, with the Department of Health and Human Services announcing it has begun to cut funding for activities “not directly necessary for the protection of life and safety, including education services, legal services, and recreation” at federal shelters housing minors detained after crossing the border. This includes English classes, legal aid, and recreational activities such as video games and soccer.

The drastic increase in migrant crossings parallels the battle between US President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats over immigration laws and construction of a border wall with Mexico. Democrats’ refusal to fund the wall led to the longest partial shutdown of the US government in history, which ended in January after 35 days.

Migrants who arrive with minors cannot be detained for longer than 20 days, under the terms of a 1990s court settlement that has the force of law. Most of them apply for asylum as well, forcing the government to release them after three weeks pending an asylum hearing. Almost two thirds of the apprehensions this year have been unaccompanied minors or families.

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