Arrests at the southern border will set new records this year, a trend driven partly by a massive surge in migration from impoverished parts of Central and South America, as more people travel hundreds or even thousands of miles to the edge of the United States.
Border Patrol apprehended 1.998 million people at the U.S.-Mexico border from October to August, already blowing past the 1.659 million arrested in all of fiscal year 2021, which was the agency’s busiest year on record.
In most years, the vast majority of Border Patrol’s arrestees are citizens of four countries that are fairly close to the U.S. border—Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador—but so far this year, those nations have made up less than 60% of total arrests, down from 78% in 2021, 89% in 2020 and well over 90% in the decade prior.
That means a growing share of arrested migrants hail from countries in the Caribbean, further south in the Americas and even India, Turkey, Romania and Russia.
Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Chris Magnus blamed “failing communist regimes in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba” for causing the surge of crossings, per a statement released Monday evening with August’s border arrest data.
So far this year, some 9.7% of southern border arrestees were citizens of Cuba, well above the 2.3% recorded last year, making Cuba a more common source of arrested migrants than either El Salvador or Honduras.
Citizens of Venezuela (7.7% of arrests this year, versus 2.9% last year), Nicaragua (7.3%, up from 3%) and Colombia (5.5%, up from 0.4%) are also increasingly common.
The share of arrestees from Haiti dropped from 2.7% last year—when thousands of Haitian migrants famously crossed the Rio Grande into one Texas city in a matter of weeks—to 1.4% this year, but it’s still well above pre-2021 levels.
181,160. That’s the total number of arrests made by Border Patrol at the U.S.-Mexico border last month, according to figures released Monday afternoon. It’s a slight decline from August 2021, when Border Patrol apprehended just shy of 200,000 people.
Migrants from beyond the Western Hemisphere are relatively rare, but a few countries in Europe and Asia have logged increases. Some 16,219 Indian citizens were arrested at the border this year, up from 2,555 last year, and arrestees from Turkey (13,729), Romania (5,621) and Russia (4,503) have also jumped over the last year.
Arrests at the southern border have remained high since early 2021, a trend that has stretched resources and turned immigration into a political flashpoint. Mexico is still the single most common country of origin, accounting for 34.2% of total arrests this year and 36.6% last year, but the sharp increase in migration from faraway countries is striking since the journey is long, arduous and often dangerous. The exact reasons for migration vary from country to country. Many Haitian migrants moved to South America after the country’s brutal 2010 earthquake but were driven further north due to discrimination and poverty, while economic collapse has sparked a refugee crisis in Venezuela, and political repression and poor economic prospects have fueld migration from Cuba and Nicaragua. In smaller numbers, Indian citizens have sometimes cited religious persecution as their motivation for traveling to the U.S. border, and some Romanians arrested at the southern border are members of the long-persecuted Roma ethnic group. After being apprehended at the border, many people will seek asylum on the basis of persecution, a challenging and time-consuming process. Adult migrants from Mexico and Central America are often sent back to the other side of the border within hours of their arrest, under a pandemic-era policy known as Title 42, but deportations to Venezuela and Cuba are rare due to poor diplomatic ties with those countries’ governments.
The Biden Administration has argued poverty and violence in Central America caused border arrests to surge, but Republicans have blamed President Joe Biden’s push to reverse hardline Trump-era immigration policies. The GOP governors of Texas and Arizona have bussed thousands of migrants to New York and D.C. in recent months, and last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) flew dozens of Venezuelan migrants from Texas to the Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard, a move critics derided as an inhumane political stunt.
What To Watch For
Migration from faraway countries could remain high in the coming months. In August, just over 31,000 migrants transited the Darién Gap, a dangerous roadless jungle that separates Colombia and Panama, up from around 25,000 in August 2021, according to the Panamanian government. More than two-thirds of last month’s total were from Venezuela.