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President Donald Trump said that migrants from South America need to enter the country in legal ports of entry to qualify for asylum. Is he correct? William Flannigan, azcentral

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The U.S. Border Patrol is increasingly encountering large groups of migrants turning themselves over to agents, including a group on Thursday that numbered more than 1,000 people near El Paso.

It was the largest group ever.

Border Patrol agents have encountered 180 large groups numbering 100 or more people during the current fiscal year, a Border Patrol official said on background during a conference call with the media.

Of the 180 large groups, 48 have totaled more than 200 people, 10 have totaled more than 300 and two more than 400, the official said.

In May alone, the Border Patrol has encountered 46 large groups, totaling more than 9,200 people who had entered the United States illegally before turning themselves in.

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The latest group numbered 1,036 people. Of those, 934 were migrants traveling as families. The rest included 63 unaccompanied children and 39 single adults.

The majority were from the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador in Central America.

The three countries are plagued by high levels of poverty and violence, and many of the migrants arriving are seeking asylum in the United States.

Smuggling organizations are recruiting migrants in Central America to bring their children to the U.S., the Border Patrol official said, and advertising that due to limited detention capacity and legal rulings they will be quickly released after they turn themselves in to U.S. authorities. 

The smuggling organizations are facilitating direct travel that allows migrant families to reach the U.S. in just three to to five days, the official said.

The Border Patrol official speculated that criminal organizations that smuggle migrants from Central America through Mexico have adopted the additional tactic of sending large groups across the border into the U.S. to maximize profits.

The Border Patrol has encountered large groups in El Paso, Roma and McAllen, Texas, as well as the bootheel of New Mexico, and Lukeville.

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The large group of 1,036 people encountered Thursday entered the U.S. near El Paso west of the Bridge of Americas port of entry.

Thursday's group crossed a nearly dry river basin before scaling a small levee and then breaching primary fencing by crawling underneath a hole in one section.

The group stretched so long, it took five minutes to snake across the river basin, the official said.

The Border Patrol needed help from U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at the port of entry to process the large group. A bus, multiple vans and other Border Patrol vehicles were used to continuously ferry the migrants from the area where they were encountered to Border Patrol processing stations.

The Border Patrol had to use eight of 10 stations in the El Paso sector to process the migrants due to the sheer size of the group.

Through April of this fiscal year, the Border Patrol has apprehended 248,197 migrants who arrived as families, a 400 percent increase compared with the 49,621 family units apprehended during the same period the year before, according to Border Patrol statistics.

The El Paso sector has seen a 1,816% increase in the number of family unit apprehensions, from 3,865 through April last year to 74,072 through April of this fiscal year.

Migrant family apprehensions have increased by 293%, to 31,291, in the Yuma sector this fiscal year, and 232% in the Tucson sector to 8,283, according to Border Patrol data.

The Rio Grande Valley in Texas remains the main crossing point for migrant families. Of the total 248,197 family units apprehended through April of this year, 101,857 have been apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley, or about 41 percent of the total.

Reach the reporter at daniel.gonzalez@arizonarepublic.com or at 602-444-8312. Follow him on Twitter @azdangonzalez. Support local journalism. Subscribe to azcentral.com today.

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