A top border official told Congress Wednesday that more than 57,000 unaccompanied children have tried to cross the southern U.S. border in the current fiscal year, a jump of 5,000 from the number cited by officials just a few weeks ago.
"The recent dramatic increase is difficult and distressing on a lot of levels," U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowski told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
US Border patrol agents keep watch outside the entrance to the US Border Patrol facility in Murrieta during an anti-immigration protest in Murrieta, California, on July 7, 2014. Protestors are opposing the arrival of buses carrying undocumented women and children migrants for processing at the Murrieta Border Patrol Station. A top border official told Congress Wednesday that the number of children detained now exceeds 57,000. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck
"To date this fiscal year, the number of unaccompanied children encountered by CBP is over 57,000," he said. "It's more than double compared to the previous year, and as of July 1, there were just over 2,600 unaccompanied children in our custody."
CBP said last month that as of June 15, it had apprehended 52,193 children during the current fiscal year that began October 1, 2013. That was just about twice as many children as CBP had apprehended at the same time last year.
The government has said as many as 60,000 children could be apprehended by the end of the fiscal year in September, although that mark seems likely to be hit later this month at the current pace. Republicans have cited other estimates saying as many as 90,000 children may be apprehended.
Children taken at the border are required by law to be placed into the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services while they await a deportation hearing. But many Republicans say this process can take too long, and that the signal is being sent to Central America that their children can safety stay in the U.S. for a long period of time, and perhaps can stay permanently.
Republicans also say the Obama administration's efforts to ease immigration rules are acting as a magnet for more illegal children. The chairman of the Senate Committee, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), rejected that idea today.
"From what I have seen and heard, the biggest factor that pulls people to come here is a desire to have a better life, and a job, in the United States," he said.
President Barack Obama has put forward a $3.7 billion proposal to boost HHS and border enforcement resources, but several Republicans have said that plan would do little to ensure the quick deportation of these children.
"Best way to stop the flow is to send them back," said Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), the top Republican on the committee.