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Arrests of migrant families crossing border reach highest point of Trump presidency

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 9/12/2018 Alan Gomez

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U.S. Border Patrol agents caught nearly 13,000 migrant family members trying to illegally enter the U.S. in August, the highest monthly total since President Donald Trump took office.

The 12,744 members of family units is the highest ever recorded in August and represents a 38 percent increase from the previous month, according to data released Wednesday by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. 

That sharp increase comes despite the implementation of Trump administration's "zero tolerance" immigration enforcement policy that led to criminal prosecutions of all illegal border-crossers and was designed to deter families from making the trip north. That policy led to more than 2,500 migrant families being separated along the border.

Migrant families carrying young children: Migrant families being moved to other immigration facilities in Texas © EPA Migrant families being moved to other immigration facilities in Texas

The zero tolerance policy remains in effect, but a federal judge ordered the administration to stop separating families in June, and is still overseeing a team of government and ACLU-led attorneys to reunite those families.

But the continued arrival of thousands of families, mostly fleeing the violence-plagued Central American nations of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, shows that the message of deterrence has not been received.

Immigration advocacy groups say those families continue trying to enter the U.S. because their home countries are still mired in raging violence fueled by gang and drug cartels. The Trump administration says the new numbers prove only that people throughout Central America understand the "gaps in our nation's legal framework."

"Smugglers and traffickers understand our broken immigration laws better than most and know that if a family unit illegally enters the U.S. they are likely to be released into the interior," Department of Homeland Security spokesman Tyler Houlton said. 

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