Border agents encountered 212,672 people attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally in July, the most in more than 21 years and three times the number in January, when President Joe Biden first took office, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters on Thursday.
"We are encountering an unprecedented number of migrants in between the ports of entry at our southern border," Mayorkas said at a press conference in Brownsville, Texas, the Washington Examiner reported.
But Mayorkas seemed to downplay the continued rise in numbers, adding: "We have seen the surges in migration before. We’ve seen them in the past, and migration surges are not new."
The 212,672 people stopped in July included those who were denied entry at border crossings and those who attempted to enter between land crossings, Customs and Border Protection said. About half of the encounters were with single adults.
Though the numbers have been rising for about 16 months, the rate has increased in the past six months after Biden and Mayorkas reversed several Trump administration border policies.
Border encounters have been about 30,000 to 50,000 per month over the past 10 years, according to data published by the U.S. Border Patrol. They were last that high in March 2000, according to the Examiner.
In December 2020, border agents encountered about 74,000 attempted crossings. They surpassed that number by about 100,000 beginning in March following the Biden administration's change in policies.
Though Biden initially called the rise "seasonal," it has continued into the summer, when the numbers traditionally decrease.
"The situation at the border is one of the toughest challenges we face. It is complicated, changing and involves vulnerable people at a time of a global pandemic," Mayorkas said.
Mayorkas also attributed the rise of the U.S. economy "and the gleam of the American promise once again" as a factor.
"Another reason is the end of the cruel policies of the past administration and the restoration of the rule of laws of this country that Congress has passed, including our asylum laws that provide humanitarian relief," he added.
Mayorkas said the administration is set on maintaining its border strategy despite the surge. He said the White House strategy includes rebuilding "safe, legal and orderly pathways for migrants," better processing, and pursuing smugglers.
"We have a plan, we are executing our plan and that takes time," he said.
Republicans blame the Biden administration.
"As record after record is broken on the border, Biden and [Vice President Kamala] Harris are failing Americans with the raging crisis they created," Republican National Committee communications director Danielle Alvarez said in a statement.
"The 212,672 border apprehensions in July underscore the failed policies of the Biden administration that have resulted in a surge of illegal immigrants and border-related COVID cases, a flood of deadly drugs entering the United States, and a rise in crime in border towns. It is time to secure our border and reverse Biden and Harris’ failed open border policies," she added.
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