Washington — The number of migrants processed by US authorities along the southern border rose to a monthly record high in December, before President Biden announced tougher enforcement measures that have reduced illegal entry, government figures released Friday show.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials at the US-Mexico border processed migrants 251,487 times last month, a 7% increase from November, driven by record arrivals of migrants from Cuba and Nicaragua, according to agency statistics. The previous monthly record was set in May 2022, when CBP recorded over 241,000 migrant encounters along the southern border.
But the sharp increase in illegal border crossings in December occurred before the Biden administration beganthat pairs increased deportations of those entering the US illegally with expanded opportunities for vulnerable asylum seekers and migrants with US-based sponsors to enter the country legally.
Since these measures were announced in early January, the number of migrants apprehended along the Mexican border has fallen. The Border Patrol is currently averaging about 4,000 migrant apprehensions per day, down 40% from the daily average in December, a senior Department of Homeland Security official told CBS News on Friday, requesting anonymity to share internal data.
Still, the record number of migrant apprehensions in December, a month that has historically seen lower migration flows than warmer parts of the year, illustrates the unprecedented migrant crisis along the southern border, where migrants have arrived in greater numbers and from more countries than ever before.
The extraordinary migration event has been driven primarily by record arrivals of migrants from countries outside Mexico and Central America’s Northern Triangle, the main sources of US-bound illegal migration before the COVID-19 pandemic.
In December, US officials along the Mexican border recorded 42,637 encounters with Cubans, and 35,389 encounters with Nicaraguans, all-time monthly highs for both nationalities. By contrast, US border agents processed migrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador nearly 33,000 times last month.
US border officials prepared in late December to dismantle a pandemic-era rule known aswhich has enabled them to quickly deport some migrants without giving them an opportunity to request asylum. But the Supreme Court stayed the termination of Title 42, ordered by a lower court, while it reviews a request from Republican-led states that want the Trump-era policy to continue.
As part of the strategy Mr. Biden unveiled in early January, the United States announced that Mexico had agreed to accept 30,000 returns per month of migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela who tried to cross into the United States illegally. Previously, Mexican officials generally only accepted the return of migrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador deported under Title 42.
The Biden administration simultaneously committed to admit up to 30,000 migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela per month and give them access to work permits if they have sponsors in the United States willing to support their arrival. Officials also announced a process for vulnerable migrants in Mexico to make arrangements through a mobile app to request U.S. entry at ports of entry along the southern border.
In December, US border officials conducted 49,405 deportations under Title 42, representing just 20% of all migrant encounters last month. However, this percentage may change in January as Mexico has since accepted the return of several migrant nationalities expelled by the United States via Title 42.
Migrants who are not deported are dealt with under normal immigration law, which allows them to apply for asylum. Migrant adults and families can be detained, deported under a process known as expedited removal or released to the United States with court notices or instructions to check in with federal officials at their respective destinations. Unaccompanied children are usually transferred to public shelters.
Migrant meetings do not represent individual migrants, as some try to cross the US border multiple times after being deported to Mexico. As of December, 14% of migrants processed along the southern border had previously been stopped by U.S. immigration officials in the past 12 months, CBP data show.
Also, not all migrants enter the United States illegally between legal ports of entry. In December, US border officials processed 23,025 asylum seekers determined to be vulnerable at ports of entry under humanitarian exemptions to Title 42, according to government data submitted to a federal court.