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CBP seeing huge increases in migrants at southern border due to violence, climate disaster

FILE - President Joe Biden walks along a stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso Texas, Jan. 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
FILE - President Joe Biden walks along a stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso Texas, Jan. 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
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The U.S. Customs and Border Protection published statistics Tuesday that reveal the staggering amounts of new arrivals at the southern border over Fiscal Year 2022 compared to the previous year.

The number of encounters by the Office of Field Operations – which include apprehensions and inadmissibles under Title 8 and expulsions under Title 42 – last year nearly doubled from FY2021, from 294,352 to 551,930. The U.S. border patrol in total had 2.2 million encounters at the border, up from 1.6 million; and took total enforcement actions on nearly 2.8 million individuals, up from 1.9 million.

The coming (fiscal) year may see even greater numbers arriving at the border, as CBP has already reported 863,929 enforcement actions since the start of the 2023 fiscal year in October 2022.

Republicans have been quick to drop the blame for these sorts of numbers at the feet of the Biden administration, which have pursued significantly less hard-liner policies than his predecessor – the Associated Press said in 2020 that “The Trump administration was more hostile to immigration and immigrants than any administration in decades.”

However, the case it not so clear cut.

Experts note that while migrants coming directly from Mexico has long been the precedent and basis for immigration policy at the southern border, the reality is that the flux of migrants now is from across Central and Southern America. CPB data shows that in 2020, Mexicans made up 65% of those arriving at the border; last year the number was down to 34%. That drop is similar across other traditional refugee groups coming to the U.S. Danilo Zak, assistant vice president of policy and advocacy for the National Immigration Forum, noted these data differentials to Arizona PBS’s Cronkite News. “We looked at September encounters from 2021 and then September 2022, Colombia is up 540%, Cubans are up 440%, Venezuelans up 213%, Nicaraguans up 149%. During that same period all other arrivals are down about 19%.”

Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director at the American Immigration Council, followed up Zak’s comments by saying that one big issue for CBP and U.S. policy is that they have been unable to adapt after being crafted to primarily deal with Mexican migrants. “A lot of those tactics and policies are simply ineffective at those arriving from further abroad,” he said.

The core principle underlying modern border enforcement regimes around the world is that a country cannot send people to a place that cannot accept them,” he continued.

“What that means is that once a migrant is on U.S. soil, if there is no country that is willing to take them, then the United States has no choice but to allow that person to access the asylum system or remain in the United States while it searches for a third country that will accept them."

Furthermore, a mix of environmental and political issues continue to impact those coming from areas like Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Haiti. “What we are seeing at the border is a consequence of a confluence of factors,” Juliette Levy, associate professor of history at University of California – Riverside, told the university’s news platform. While she admits that the Biden administration’s “more welcoming” and less hard-liner policies are indeed a factor driving such high traffic to the border, it is not the main motivator.

The fact is that in both Guatemala and Honduras, poverty is a main driver of migration, in concert with gang violence and paramilitary violence,” she explained. “And two hurricanes in 2020 laid waste to both countries — especially in the poorer areas of the country. Add to that the economic fall out of the pandemic and you have a powder keg of circumstances.

Guatemala and Honduras, along with El Salvador – the “Northern Triangle of Central America” – are estimated to account for 4.5 percent of all homicide in the world, despite the area containing 0.5 percent of the global population. It is a level of violence – due to gangs and paramilitary groups – that is unthinkable in the U.S.

Along with this, one of the Biden administration’s goals has been to support the people of Central America with funding projects aimed at improving quality of life in home countries such that there is not this need to flee to the states.

As Miguel Carreras, an associate professor of political science at UC-Riverside notes: “A combination of state weakness, corruption, high criminality, and economic desperation creates a sense of hopelessness among people in Central America and Mexico, which pushes them to initiate the risky journey toward the United States.

Pres. Biden made his first trip to the southern border earlier this month, stopping in El Paso on his way to the North American Leader’s Summit in Mexico City. Ahead of this visit, the administration announced a new slate of policies aimed at curbing migration, including cracking down on illegal border crossings and expanding a parole process for Venezuelans, Nicaraguans, Haitians, and Cubans. “Up to 30,000 individuals per month from these four countries, who have an eligible sponsor and pass vetting and background checks, can come to the United States for a period of two years and receive work authorization,” the administration stated in a news release.

According to Customs and Border Patrol, this policy appears to be working. “The December update shows our new border enforcement measures are working. Even as overall encounters rose because of smugglers spreading misinformation around the court-ordered lifting of the Title 42 public health order, we continued to see a sharp decline in the number of Venezuelans unlawfully crossing our southwest border, down 82% from September 2022,” said CBP Acting Commissioner Troy Miller in a statement released Friday. “Early data suggests the expanded measures for Cubans, Haitians, and Nicaraguans are having a similar impact, and we look forward to sharing the additional data in the next update.

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