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Illegal border crossings rise rapidly after brief decline


Illegal crossings along the southern border have reached levels not seen in several months, straining government resources and taxing some local communities where large numbers of migrants have been released from federal prisons.

There were more than 8,000 arrests Monday, according to Brandon Judd, the head of the union that represents Border Patrol agents. Figures this high haven’t been seen since a surge in early May brought the daily count to nearly 10,000, and they are much higher than in mid-April, when there were around 4,900 illegal crossings per day.

The effects of these growing numbers are reverberating across the country, as communities on the border and others far from it find themselves scrambling to support migrants released from federal custody.

“We are seeing an increase right now,” said Ruben Garcia, who oversees a network of shelters in El Paso, across the border from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. “We are seeing a significant increase in the number of people crossing.”

The recent influx of illegal crossings could present challenges for President Biden, whose administration has sought to prevent the southern border from fueling Republican rhetoric on immigration policy, particularly ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

During President Biden’s term, the number of illegal crossings has reached notable heights, surpassing levels seen during a pre-pandemic influx in 2019 under the Trump administration. But southern border crossings declined sharply for about six weeks in May and June after public health measures put in place during the pandemic ended. Known as Title 42, this rule resulted in the rapid expulsion of migrants who crossed the border illegally, even if they were seeking asylum.

Officials expected an increase in illegal crossings after Title 42 ended, but the increase came just days before, reaching about 9,500 per day in the week before Title 42 ended.

The relative calm that followed did not last.

“I never believed that the decline in illegal border crossings would last, because there were already tens of thousands of people in northern Mexico and many more behind them using the Darién Gap,” he said. said Theresa Cardinal Brown, senior advisor for immigration and border policy. at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Last year, a record number of nearly 250,000 people crossed the Darién Gap, a jungle straddling Colombia and Panama, in an attempt to reach the United States. This year, despite U.S. efforts to curb this flow, that number rose to 360,000 as of September 10, according to Panamanian authorities.

The administration said the drop in illegal crossings in May and June was due to new enforcement measures and new legal pathways for people to come to the United States.

Officials attribute the recent influx to several factors, including long waits for the Biden administration’s new course and misinformation spread by Mexican cartels that traffic drugs and smuggle migrants.

Customs and Border Protection, which monitors border crossings, has not confirmed the recent figures, information which is usually made public about three weeks after they are compiled.

Since July, many people, including families, waiting for an appointment at a port of entry or under a humanitarian parole program, have decided to take their chances and cross illegally. border, people who work with asylum seekers and at migrant shelters said. Although federal authorities warn that illegal crossings have consequences, migrants who are allowed to stay in the country temporarily often tell family and friends in their home countries that they reached the United States with success. Such messages can encourage other migrants to undertake the often dangerous journey to the United States.

This influx has strained the capacity of many border facilities where migrants are held for processing by the Border Patrol. And Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers, where many single adults are sent, are running out of beds. When shelters cannot accommodate migrants, authorities begin releasing them into communities.

“The Border Patrol is basically releasing people as they process them to decompress their facilities,” said Diego Piña Lopez, director of the Casa Alitas shelter network in Tucson. “This leads to releases onto the streets everywhere.”

In southern Arizona last week, mayors and local officials said that after processing dozens of migrants, border agents released them in small border towns, dropping them off without resources in front of a Catholic church. in Douglas or a supermarket in Bisbee.

“We had 32 yesterday that were dropped off at 3 p.m., and there was no bus,” said Mayor Ken Budge of Bisbee.

Casa Alitas, which operates five shelters in the Tucson area, is housing 1,500 people each night, up from 800 two weeks ago.

In San Diego, border officials are dropping off hundreds of migrants at transit centers every day as the region’s migrant shelters reach capacity. Volunteers have tried to provide basic needs, including food, water and assistance for the rest of the journey, but accommodation options elsewhere are also limited.

“The situation is unsustainable for community organizations trying to meet the humanitarian needs of migrants in these border areas,” said Pedro Rios, director of the U.S.-Mexico Border Program for the American Friends Service Committee.

In El Paso, a cargo bridge between Mexico and the United States has been closed for several days as customs personnel were diverted to help Border Patrol agents process apprehended migrants.

On September 18, agents in the El Paso sector encountered 1,609 migrants, according to official data obtained by the Times, up from 1,158 on September 7 and 761 on June 9.

After crossing the border onto U.S. soil, most migrants turn themselves in to Border Patrol agents, intending to seek asylum, instead of sneaking into the country and trying to escape the detection.

Jack Healy in Phoenix, Reyes Mata, III, in El Paso and Julie Turkewitz in Bogota contributed to this report.