President Donald Trump's efforts to halt migrant caravans and limit asylum have not deterred Central American minors and members of their families from rushing toward the USA, according to data released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Wednesday.
Border Patrol agents apprehended 27,518 members of family units in December, the highest monthly total on record. That figure has steadily climbed for five months, even as Trump made stopping migrant caravans the centerpiece of his midterm election strategy and drove Washington into a partial government shutdown over funding for his border wall.
Those caravan members, most of whom tried to exercise their legal right to request asylum in the USA, contributed to a third straight month of more than 60,000 migrants being detained at U.S. ports of entry and arrested in the vast stretches of border in between.
The Trump administration points to those numbers as proof that the situation along the southern border is at "crisis" levels that requires the expansion of the border wall. Trump used a national TV address from the Oval Office on Tuesday night to make that case.
The administration has also used the growing number of migrants to try to end asylum for victims of domestic abuse and gang violence and to prevent migrants who enter the country illegally from applying for asylum. Both of those moves were blocked by federal courts.
Trump's decision to force all asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while their cases are decided continues to be enforced.
The number of migrants apprehended trying to cross the border remains far lower than it was in the 2000s, when Border Patrol agents routinely arrested more than 100,000 migrants a month and twice made more than 200,000 arrests in a month.
Democrats and other critics of the administration accused Trump of using the migrant caravan as a political tool to get the border wall he promised throughout his presidential campaign.
"Manufacturing a crisis at the border, shutting down the government, lying in prime time to the American public and executing a power grab just to build a medieval, ineffective wall is too much," Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, a Los Angeles-based immigrant rights organization, said late Tuesday.