Why migrant apprehensions on the US-Mexico border exceeded 2 million in one year for the first time
More than two million migrants were apprehended at the US-Mexico border in the past year, a record number that is of political concern to the Biden administration.
According to new figures from the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the number of 2.15 million arrests represents a 24% increase from the previous year.
Statistics show that the number of migrants from Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba increased dramatically, while the number of those from Mexico and the Northern Triangle of Central America – El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras – decreased.
In a statement, CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus said “failed communist regimes” were “driving a new wave of migration” across the border.
Experts point to other reasons that may explain the increase, including a large number of repeat crossings and persistent economic problems related to the pandemic in Latin America.
The growing number of immigrants at the border represents a contentious issue in US politics, just ahead of the midterm elections in November.
The opposition has criticized President Joe Biden and other Democrats for the increase, at the same time that there has been growing tension between the White House and some Republican state governments, over the way migrants are being transported by bus or plane to Democratic-run areas, such as New York and Washington DC
Why was a record number reached?
The number of migrants arriving at the border increased dramatically after Biden took office in late January 2021.
Experts point to a number of reasons for the increase, including environmental disasters and economic problems in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. In other cases – such as Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela – economic problems have been aggravated by political repression.
“There’s a level of desperation that we haven’t seen before,” said Adam Isacson, a migration and border expert at the Washington Office on Latin America. “And there are people coming from countries that haven’t sent immigrants in significant numbers in the past, largely due to a lack of economic opportunity. The smugglers take advantage of that.”
Many of the migrants are now seeking asylum, a process that was severely restricted by the Donald Trump administration.
Where are the migrants from?
Migrants from Mexico and Central America’s Northern Triangle countries continue to make up the bulk of the total, with Mexicans alone accounting for about 744,000 of the apprehensions over the past year.
However, the August figures from CBP show changes in migration patterns. The number of Mexicans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans and Hondurans fell 43% compared to August 2021. The numbers of Cubans, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans, on the other hand, have risen 175% in the same period.
Together, these three nationalities account for about 494,000 migrant apprehensions this year.
Ariel Ruiz, a policy expert at the Washington, DC-based Migration Policy Institute, noted that links between these countries are also contributing to the increases.
Cuba, for example, has lost much of the aid it received from Venezuela before the pandemic, which has increased its economic difficulties.
While Nicaragua’s decision last year to eliminate visa requirements for Cubans means they now have a starting point to begin their journey from Central America to the US.
The lack of diplomatic relations between the US and these nations means that they cannot be repatriated to their home countries.
Biden, for his part, has said that sending migrants back to Cuba, Venezuela or Nicaragua “is not rational” and that he is working with Mexico and other countries to “stop the flow.”
The Trump policy that is still in force
Since taking office, Biden has upheld a controversial Trump-era policy that allows officials to automatically expel undocumented immigrants seeking to enter the country, without enforcing the laws and protections migrants normally have.
The policy, known as , was originally intended to prevent the spread of covid-19 in migrant detention facilities.
On Monday, CBP said that “the high number of removals during the pandemic has contributed to an increased number of migrants making multiple attempts to cross the border.”
Isacson said the policy leads to statistical “distortions.”
A headache for Biden
The rising numbers of immigrants represent a growing political problem for the Biden administration, particularly with the midterm elections looming.
Three Republican-controlled states — Texas, Arizona and Florida — have announced initiatives to move immigrants into Democratic-led states, sometimes leaving them in high-profile places like the luxurious island of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, or near the residence of Vice President Kamala Harris in Washington.
Officials in these states have argued that the tactic is intended to mitigate the impact of migration flows on local communities.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, for example, who in early September began bringing immigrants to Massachusetts, said that “by the time even a small fraction of what those border towns deal with every day arrives at their front door , they [los demócratas] they have a sudden madness.”
The issue of migrants at the border is likely to have an impact at the polls. A recent poll by US public radio NPR, for example, found that immigration was a top election issue, after inflation, for 20% of Republican voters, compared to 1% of Democrats.
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