Families crossing illegally at the US-Mexico border in December reached a record high for the fourth month in a row, according to Customs and Border Protection data obtained by CNN.
This comes as the Trump administration has been claiming a humanitarian crisis on the southern border, with President Donald Trump giving an address to the nation Tuesday night to convince the country and Congress that a physical border barrier is needed to deal with the situation.
In December, US Border Patrol arrested 27,518 family members, up nearly 240% from last December, which had 8,120 arrests. Arrests on the border are used by the government as a measure of illegal crossings. There has been a steady upswing in family arrests since August, when 12,760 family members were apprehended.
CBP Commissioner Kevin McAlleenan told ABC News late last month that the department needs a barrier to help push illegal drug traffic into areas that can be better controlled, but also needs "money to provide a better process, a different approach for families and children crossing." In December, 65% of CBP crossings were families and children, he told ABC News' "This Week."
"We don't want them in Border Patrol stations, we want them in a better scenario for these vulnerable populations that we're seeing," he added.
Total arrests have remained steady for the past few months, but dipped slightly from 51,856 in November to 50,752 in December. Historically, border arrests tend to drop in December during the holidays and as the weather turns colder.
In his first formal address to the nation from the Oval Office, Trump on Tuesday cast the situation along the US-Mexico border as a national security threat, citing a surge of apprehensions. While family crossings are on the rise, the overall illegal crossings remain historically low -- in the early to mid-2000s, there were months when well over 100,000 migrants were apprehended illegally crossing the southern border. 2006 was the last year when annual statistics show more than 1 million people were apprehended illegally crossing the southern border.
The administration has refused to buckle on its $5.7 billion funding request for the border wall. Administration officials have cited increases in the number of apprehensions, drug seizures along the southern border and a spike in asylum claims as reason for additional barriers along the southern border.
The issue of illegal border crossings by families and children reached new urgency in December after two children died after being in CBP custody. Seven-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin died less than 48 hours after being detained by Border Patrol. She had traveled with her father more than 2,000 miles from her home community in northern Guatemala. And an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy, Felipe Alonzo-Gomez, died on Christmas Eve after also being detained with his father by Border Patrol.
In the wake of the deaths, CBP completed secondary medical reviews of children in Border Patrol custody and US Coast Guard medical assistance teams were surged to the border.