(BBC) – The number of undocumented migrants reaching the US-Mexico border has hit the highest level in more than 20 years in the latest sign of the humanitarian crisis facing the Biden administration.
US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said it caught 180,034 migrants, mostly single adults, in May.
The number was up slightly from 178,854 in April and 172,000 in March.
It was the biggest monthly total since April 2000 with increasing numbers coming from outside Central America.
This includes countries like Ecuador, Venezuela, Cuba, Haiti and even some African nations.
The number of unaccompanied children from Central America dropped to 10,765 in May, compared with 13,940 the previous month, according to CBP figures.
The border agency said the average daily number of children in its custody has plummeted to 640. However, another 16,200 migrant children are being held by the US health department.
Some of these children have no relatives in the US, Health Secretary Xavier Becerra said on Tuesday in congressional testimony.
JooYeun Chang, a US health department acting assistant secretary, said the numbers of unaccompanied migrant children since March are “simply unprecedented”.
The CBP update follows US Vice-President Kamala Harris’ two-day visit to Guatemala and Mexico to address the root causes of immigration. She told illegal immigrants thinking of making the trek to America: “Do not come.”
The cable network’s White House correspondent John Harwood said the vice-president’s “obvious discomfort” with the question by NBC and her “nervous laughter” had left the White House “confused”.
Across the northern border, Canada has offered to help with the crisis by taking in some Central American migrants.
Canada’s immigration minister Mark Mendicino told Reuters on Tuesday: “I certainly think that we have the capacity.”
Canada has pledged to resettle thousands of refugees in 2021, but it also turned away those seeking asylum during the pandemic. It remains unclear how the country will accept migrants who are currently in US custody.