John Burnett

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For people familiar with the lonesome highways of far West Texas and New Mexico, it's an unusual sight: The ubiquitous Border Patrol checkpoints are all closed. Last month, Homeland Security shifted the checkpoint agents to the border to help process the crush of migrant asylum-seekers.

Otero County, N.M., is so alarmed by the possibility of illegal narcotics flowing north unchecked that it has declared a local state of emergency.

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An Iraq War veteran who is not a U.S. citizen is facing deportation to Mexico over a felony conviction unless an immigration judge decides to let him stay in the United States.

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Immigration agents say they have identified more than 3,100 migrants over the past year making fraudulent claims about their age or family relationships after crossing the southern border.

This includes migrants who claim to be children, but who are actually 18 or older, as well as adults who falsely claim to be parents of minors they're traveling with, according to Brian Hastings, chief of law enforcement operations for Customs and Border Protection.

With a dramatic shake-up at the highest levels of the Department of Homeland Security, President Trump has signaled that he wants to get even tougher on immigration.

But how much tougher can he get?

Trump has been frustrated with the inability of DHS to stop a surge of Central American migrant families and children from crossing the Southern border.

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Mario Garcia sits in the doorway of his tire shop in Gracias a Dios, Guatemala, a short distance from the border with Mexico, watching the unfettered flow of migrants headed north. By his estimate, up to 1,000 migrants cross over into Carmen Xhan, Mexico, every day.

"This is an open border," Garcia says, with a knowing smile. "There's no immigration control on this side or the other side. Anyone can go across freely."

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The Trump administration is now warning about "fake families" amid the surge of Central American migrants crossing the southern border. Border agents have noticed an uptick in adult immigrants traveling with minors who are not their children. The administration suspects foul play, but immigrant advocates say they're just trying to make it into the U.S. for a better life.

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As thousands of migrant parents and children continue to stream across the U.S.-Mexico border every day, the Border Patrol is bringing in more agents and asking the Pentagon for additional help.

The Border Patrol says it needs more manpower to care for the migrants — more of whom are coming with infectious illnesses. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen says agents are on track to stop nearly 100,000 people crossing illegally this month — far exceeding last month's total.

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A desperate father, once deported, has trekked 2,000 miles from Honduras to cross the border again and reunite with the daughter who was separated from him last spring.

He is one of more than 200 parents who were deported to Central America while their children were placed with sponsors or in foster homes in the United States.

The U.S. Border Patrol apprehended more than 66,000 migrants at the Southern border in February, the highest total for a single month in almost a decade.

The majority of those arrested were migrant families or children traveling alone or without a parent, according to figures released Tuesday by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Many of the migrants say they're fleeing criminal gangs and poverty in Central America to seek asylum in the United States.

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When migrant children cross the border without their parents, they're sent to federal shelters until caseworkers can find them a good home. But everything changes when they turn 18. That's when, in many cases, they're handcuffed and locked up in an adult detention facility. The practice is sparking lawsuits and outrage from immigrant advocates.

Thousands of migrant children continue to arrive at the Southern border every month, without their parents, to ask for asylum. The government sends many of them to an emergency intake shelter in South Florida. That facility has come under intense scrutiny because it's the only child shelter for immigrants that's run by a for-profit corporation and the only one that isn't overseen by state regulators.

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For nearly a year before family separation became an official and controversial policy of the Trump administration in the spring of 2018, federal immigration agents separated "thousands" of migrant children from their parents. That's according to a government watchdog report released Thursday.

For Tijuana, the Central American caravans that arrived there in November have become a humanitarian challenge. For the Trump administration, they are a national security threat, as well as a potent and convenient symbol of why the United States needs stronger border security.

"We don't know who else is in that group," says Rodney Scott, chief of the San Diego Border Patrol Sector. "The sheer numbers indicate there are nefarious people within the caravans."

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Language matters. Words, acronyms - they can shape the way we view a story or a group of people. We'll consider one term that the government uses now with John Burnett, who covers immigration for NPR out of Texas. Hi, John.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Hi, Lulu.

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