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McAllen, Texas – A mother cradled a crying toddler as she waited in line with 20 other women to shower. Dozens of fathers quietly held their children’s hands in an enclosure made of chain-link fencing.

While these families were held at an overcrowded Border Patrol processing center, a fresh wave of migrants crossed the nearby river separating the U.S. and Mexico and waited for border agents to bring them to the same facility.

The cycle is repeated multiple times a day. Waves of desperate families are trying to cross the border almost hourly and entering an overtaxed government detention system.

The Border Patrol has become so overwhelmed in feeding and caring for the migrants that it announced plans this week to start releasing some families onto the street in the Rio Grande Valley to ease overcrowding in the processing center.

“We have an unprecedented crisis upon us,” Robert Perez, deputy commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Border Patrol’s parent agency, said in an interview.

The Border Patrol says it made about 66,000 apprehensions of people crossing the border illegally in February, including 36,000 parents and children, an all-time monthly high. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, meanwhile, said since Dec. 21 it has released 107,000 family members while they await court dates.

Immigration authorities expect the number of parents and children to surpass 50,000 in March during the traditional spring spike in migration and potentially reach 180,000 in May, according to two U.S. officials who were not authorized to speak publicly about internal documents.

The Border Patrol ordered expanded medical screenings after the December deaths of two children in its custody. The agency received $30 million to upgrade its South Texas processing center and additional funding to build a similar facility in El Paso.

The autopsy results for Jakelin Caal and Felipe Gomez Alonzo have not yet been released, but Customs and Border Protection has said both children were hospitalized after developing high fevers and nausea.

Children with fevers, colds and the flu arrive daily at the border with their parents and sometimes wait for hours for the Border Patrol to pick them up.

On a recent Thursday, Carmen Mejia’s 7-month-old, Lian, was feverish, one of four sick children in her group of 20. His mother had heard about Jakelin and Felipe before leaving her rural town in northern Honduras.

“It made me sad,” she said. “But imagine. I’m here, also looking for a future for my son.”

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