migrant family

Migrants are escorted by a U.S. Border Patrol agent as they are detained after climbing over the border wall from Playas de Tijuana, Mexico, to San Ysidro, Calif., Monday, Dec. 3, 2018.
Illegal immigration ticked up in November, but the number of those people traveling as families shattered records, Homeland Security reported Thursday, saying it's proof that migrants have figured out how to game the flawed U.S. immigration system.

More than 25,000 people who came as part of families were snared by Border Patrol agents sneaking across the U.S.-Mexico line, and nearly 5,000 more were encountered at official border crossings where they demanded entry.

Nearly 5,300 more children traveling without parents were also caught jumping the border, the government said.

The 25,000 family "units," as they're called, are by far a record, far surpassing the heights of the Obama years.

"The November 2018 border numbers are the predictable result of a broken immigration system - including flawed judicial rulings - that usurps the will of the American people who have repeatedly demanded secure borders," said Katie Waldman a spokeswoman for Homeland Security.

She pinned blame particularly on several rulings out of the federal 9th judicial circuit, which covers the country's West Coast.

One judge last month blocked the president's attempts to curtail bogus asylum claims, while another judge earlier this year maintained her policy requiring families to be quickly released from detention - creating the catch-and-release loophole many migrants are taking advantage of.

The new numbers underscore an ongoing change in migration patterns to the U.S.

Where Mexicans used to dominate the illegal flow across the border, now it's primarily Central Americans, and chiefly those from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

Some pay what's known as a "mafia fee" of $2,000 or more to smugglers, just to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.

Once across, some will turn themselves in, hoping to take advantage of the lax asylum system. Others will pay $8,000 or more to be smuggled to destinations far from the border, where family or jobs await.

The smuggling has become a major money-maker for the cartels that control the flow, and for down-and-out Americans looking to make a quick buck.

It's usually single adults who are paying the higher fees.

Families, meanwhile, will pay mafia fees for the crossing, but since they turn themselves in, they don't have to pay to be smuggled into locations inside the U.S. Instead they rely on the government to process them and release them on the promise that they return for deportation hearings - a promise that is often broken.

The 25,172 illegal immigrant family members nabbed by the Border Patrol last month is up from 23,121 in October and far more than the maximum of about 16,000 set during several months during the Obama administration.