The United States is expected to have to deal with more than 8 million asylum seekers and migrants who will have crossed the southern border by September.
The staggering figure represents a 167 percent increase in just a five-year period and underscores the challenges facing what is an outdated and underfunded immigration system.
The system appears to be struggling to cope with the rapid number of migrants crossing the border, which reached an all-time high of 302,000 monthly crossings in December.
The delay has left millions of people currently residing in the United States but in a state of limbo, not knowing whether they will be allowed to stay or simply be deported.
The United States is expected to have more than 8 million asylum seekers and immigrants in legal limbo by the end of September, an increase of 167% in five years.
Migrants cross the Rio Grande, at the border that divides Mexico from the United States, in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, on Thursday.
Groups of migrants of different nationalities arrive at the Río Grande, to cross it and surrender to the US authorities, since elements of the Texas National Guard no longer prevent their passage in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico on Saturday.
Migrants attempt to cross the Rio Grande from Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua state, Mexico, on Thursday.
Immigrants who cross the border can often be forced to wait several years for a decision on their applications.
Recent data suggests that the backlog has only increased during President Biden’s term, partly reflecting the difficulties his administration has faced in addressing the unprecedented influx of migrants, primarily from Central and South America.
At the end of fiscal year 2023, on Sept. 30, more than 6 million people were registered in what officials call the “non-detainee docket.”
Government projections, as reported in Homeland Security documents sent to Congress, suggest that number will have risen to 8 million by October 1.
The figure includes people who have been ordered deported or who are still awaiting final decisions in their asylum or immigration cases.
Most are not held in the limited available detention spaces but are able to roam freely.
The immigration system appears unable to keep up with the growing migrant population: More than 302,000 people crossed the border in December, an all-time high.
The number of migrants crossing the southern border has skyrocketed since 2021
Groups of migrants of different nationalities arrive at the Rio Grande, to cross it and surrender to the US authorities on Saturday
Activists and migrants on Mexico’s northern border expressed relief after a U.S. judge postponed the entry into force of Texas SB4, which as of February 26 would have allowed Texas authorities to detain, imprison or expel migrants. .
Firefighters (from left) Rodrigo Pineda, William Dorsey and Lt. Julio Valdes of the Eagle Pass Fire Department recover the body of a drowned migrant in the Rio Grande River on Friday in Eagle Pass, Texas.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) currently has only 40,000 detention beds.
In the backlog, about 2 million of the people in the backlog are considered high-priority cases, primarily those who have received deportation orders to their home countries.
It also includes migrants who have criminal records or who face pending criminal charges.
To further complicate matters, federal immigration agencies, including CBP and ICE, are facing challenges due to partisan bickering in Congress, which has hindered the allocation of necessary resources.
The Biden administration has sought additional funds to address the border situation, but the requests have been met with resistance.
A bipartisan border deal that had been in the works for months was killed by Republicans, influenced by Trump’s stance on the issue.
Trump appears to want to turn the chaos at the border and the Biden administration’s ineffectiveness in addressing the problem into a partisan political campaign issue.
Republicans continue to push to detain and deport more immigrants just as ICE is forced to consider cuts.
Migrants link arms as they wade into the Rio Grande River with the intention of crossing to Eagle Pass, Texas, last month.
Migrants prepare to cross the Rio Grande on Thursday
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump gestures after greeting people across the Rio Grande in Mexico in Shelby Park during a visit to the US-Mexico border.
President Joe Biden greets Brownsville Mayor John Cowen upon his arrival in Brownsville, Texas, on Thursday, where he met with federal border patrol agents.
Last month, the Senate failed to pass a bipartisan bill that would have addressed a $700 million budget shortfall for the agency, the largest in history. The failed bill would have allocated $7.6 billion specifically for ICE.
Officials at ICE and the Department of Homeland Security said they were considering cutting costs by releasing thousands of immigrants and reducing detention levels by 16,000, from 38,000 to 22,000.
Meanwhile, thousands of people in desperate circumstances continue to cross the border daily.
Following the failure of the bipartisan border agreement, there is now speculation about whether President Biden will decide to adopt policies similar to those implemented by Trump to curb illegal border crossings.
Either way, immigration experts, officials and congressional sources agree that any policy that is effective in addressing illegal border crossings will require substantial investments in personnel and other resources.