With President Trump planning a televised address to back his plan for a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, the Associated Press examines some of the major issues in the debate. One of the biggest challenges isn’t just stopping people from crossing the border, but figuring out what to do with those who have already crossed illegally. Border Patrol agents are apprehending far fewer people than they once were, a sign that the number of people crossing illegally has plummeted since 2000. But while most of those crossing illegally used to be Mexican men looking for work, now nearly half are families and unaccompanied children from Central America. Customs and Border Protection officials have long said their stations are not equipped to manage the growing influx of children and families. As a result, border crossers are stuck in short-term holding cells for days and there has been a spike in sick migrant children, including two who died in custody.
More families and children traveling alone are surrendering to authorities to seek asylum instead of trying to elude capture. The number of asylum seekers jumped nearly 70 percent from budget year 2017 to 2018 to nearly 93,000. That is up from nearly 56,000 migrants who asked for asylum the previous year. The immigration court backlog has more than doubled to 1.1 million cases since shortly before Trump took office, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. The border wall wouldn’t address the problem of people overstaying their visas. About 40 percent of people in the U.S. illegally came with visas that later expired. U.S. authorities say there were nearly 740,000 overstays during a recent 12-month period. Border Patrol leaders have struggled to say with any degree of precision how well fences work, in part because it’s unknown how many people get away. Walls and fencing cover about one-third of the 1,954-mile-long border.