Migrant crossings at the border increase again

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About 7,100 migrants are apprehended daily after crossing the US-Mexico border, US officials said Tuesday, saying they are preparing for further increases as the administration of President Joe Biden nears a decision. on whether to end asylum restrictions put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz said 1,500 Cubans were apprehended the day before, more than double the daily average for February.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said US authorities encountered migrants an average of 7,101 times a day during the week ending Monday, compared with a daily average of about 6,800 encounters in February, between people who cross illegally and those who present themselves at official crossings.

The sharp increase, if it continues, could exceed the levels of migration reached last year, in 2019 and in other periods of increased activity.

“This is a bipartisan issue, you have to get both parties on board,” Ortiz said at the Border Security Expo, an industry conference in San Antonio, Texas.

Removing asylum restrictions put in place by the COVID-19 pandemic “will likely cause a significant increase” in migrant arrivals at the southern border of the United States, the DHS wrote in a 16-page document outlining actions it has taken. , such as more staff and other measures, to deal with a larger number of people. The department noted that the increase in arrivals also reflected the long-term causes driving migration to the United States, such as earthquakes, other natural disasters and economic decline leading to food and housing shortages.

“Over the past several years, irregular migration along the Southwest border has increased to unprecedented levels,” the DHS noted. “In addition to the increase in migration, (the department) is noticing a pronounced change in the demographics and nationalities of non-citizens who are apprehended at the land border that affects their processes.”

DHS officials said they have plans for three scenarios: for the current level of illegal border crossings, for about 12,000 apprehensions, and for about 18,000 apprehensions, an impressive number but which officials say is simply for preparedness and not a projection as such.

The department said it has created a Southwest Border Coordination Center to respond to any significant surges, and that MaryAnn Tierney, regional director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, will serve as acting director, with a Border Patrol agent serving as second in command.

The US government is being challenged by the arrival of migrants from countries that usually did not send such large numbers of people to the United States, such as Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Colombia.

Since March 2020, the United States has used a public health order put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as the basis for expelling migrants more than 1.7 million times without giving them an opportunity to apply for asylum. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is scheduled to make a decision this week on whether to extend Title 42, named for a 1944 public health law.

Some migrants from countries like Cuba continue to be released into the United States to apply for asylum because costs and diplomatic problems prevent the United States from sending them home.

COVID-19 rates have been declining among migrants crossing the border, raising further questions about the scientific basis for leaving Title 42 in effect. Although there is no overall rate for migrants, the results of the tests conducted in several of the main corridors for illegal border crossings indicate that it is well below the levels that caused concern among US authorities.

In California, 54 of 2,877 migrants tested positive for the virus in the first two weeks of March, according to the state Department of Social Services. That is a rate of just 1.9%, compared to the peak of 28.2% registered on January 8.

In Pima County, Arizona, which includes Tucson, the seven-day positivity rate among migrants did not exceed 1.3% in early March. The infection rate among 5,300 migrants who were tested last month at the Border Regional Health Center near Yuma, Arizona, was 0.1%.

McAllen, Texas — the largest city in the busiest illegal crossing corridor — has a higher rate among migrants: 11.3% in the week ending March 16, but it has been consistently lower than the general population.

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