The yearend spike in Central American children and families illegally crossing the southwest border – a thorny problem with big implications for Georgia and other states – may be part of a “new normal,” the nation’s border chief said during a stop in Atlanta Friday.

“We are watching it pretty carefully — we are concerned,” said U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske, who was visiting with police in Buckhead about human trafficking. “Perhaps we are seeing a new normal with a lot of people wanting to come across that southern border into the United States.”

Fleeing punishing poverty and brutal gangs, tens of thousands of people from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras started surging across the border in 2014. Their numbers fell toward the end of that year and stayed lower in early 2015 before rising sharply again. Between October of 2015 and January of this year, apprehensions on the southwest border were more than double the number from the same period the year before. Most of those who were caught are from Central America. Some are from Mexico.

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