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US credits new programs for January drop in border crossings

Customs and Border Protection reports the lowest number of monthly migrant encounters between ports of entry in nearly two years

A U.S. Border Patrol agent and a Mexican immigration officer coordinate Jan. 9 before U.S. agents expelled migrants from the United States to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
A U.S. Border Patrol agent and a Mexican immigration officer coordinate Jan. 9 before U.S. agents expelled migrants from the United States to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. (John Moore/Getty Images)

The number of migrants encountered monthly at the southwest border dropped significantly in January, a dip that Biden administration officials attribute to recent “carrot and stick”-style migration programs.

Border agents reported a 40 percent drop in total encounters with migrants last month, decreasing from a record 252,000 encounters in December to about 156,000 in January, according to data released Friday by Customs and Border Protection.

Of those, about 128,400 migrants were apprehended between ports of entry, according to CBP, making January the lowest month of reported migrant encounters between ports in nearly two years.

Biden administration officials attributed the decline in border crossings to recent programs aimed at discouraging migrants from crossing the border in between ports of entry.

The administration announced a program in early January that would allow 30,000 migrants each month from Venezuela, Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua to apply to live in the U.S. temporarily while also allowing migrants from those nations to be expelled from the country if they cross the border without authorization.

According to CBP, the number of encounters each day with migrants from those four nations dropped precipitously last month, from a seven-day average of more than 1,200 on Jan. 5, the day the migration program was announced, to an average of 59 on the last day of the month.

“The January monthly operational update clearly illustrates that new border enforcement measures are working, with the lowest level of Border Patrol encounters between Ports of Entry since February of 2021,” CBP Acting Commissioner Troy Miller said in a news release.

Miller also said the trends “have continued into February, with average encounters of Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans plummeting.”

An administration official, who briefed reporters Friday on the condition of anonymity, said the lower migration levels in January are “the result of a highly effective strategy that the Biden administration has been implementing since day one, both at our border and across the Western Hemisphere.”

“I think it points to the fact that the model we have put forward here of providing robust avenues for individuals to access protection and opportunity in the U.S., combined with the application of consequences at ports of entry, can really dramatically change migratory patterns and migratory behavior,” another administration official said.

Continuing enforcement

If trends continue, the Biden administration may look to continue, or expand, similar programs that combine narrow legal pathways with harder enforcement at the southwest border.

The Department of Homeland Security has continued to expel migrants from the country under a pandemic-related order known as Title 42, which allows agents to turn away migrants without considering their asylum claims. This order has allowed the department to expel Haitians, Nicaraguans, Cubans and Venezuelans to Mexico under the migration program.

However, the Title 42 order, which is also the subject of legal challenges, is set to end on May 11 with the expiration of the COVID-19 public health emergencies.

Addressing news reports that the administration is considering replacing it with another rapid deportation program, an administration official on the press call denied that the United States has reached an agreement with Mexico.

But the official also said that the U.S. and Mexican governments are “encouraged by the preliminary results” from the migration programs and “are looking for ways to continue them once Title 42 is no longer in place.”

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas also announced plans last month to issue a forthcoming regulation, with the Department of Justice, that would limit migrants’ eligibility to qualify for asylum if they transited through another nation on their way to the United States.

In a court filing earlier this week, the government said that the two departments “expect to issue the proposed rule in the coming weeks and aim to finalize it by May 11.”

But additional restrictions may do little to satisfy House Republicans, who have made border security a key priority this session and pledged to impeach Mayorkas over his handling of the border.

Congressional Republicans have held two hearings in recent weeks that aim to hammer the administration on its border policies, and two lawmakers have released impeachment articles against the Homeland Security chief.

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