‘Wave of displacement’ continues at the border

By Ibrahim Aksoy

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More than 2.3 million migrants tried to enter the United States without authorization in fiscal year 2022, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, up 37.1% from 1.7 million the previous fiscal year.

Since March, those numbers have not dropped below 200,000 and peaked in May with 241,136 crossing attempts. Single adults formed the highest share, nearly 70%.

Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director at the American Immigration Council, said the rising numbers are a sign of the massive wave of displacement that occurred across the Western Hemisphere following the COVID-19 pandemic and a rise in authoritarianism in Latin American countries.

“This was further fueled by the belief many migrants held that the Biden administration would be more welcoming than the Trump administration,” Reichlin-Melnick said, “even though the Biden administration has consistently told migrants not to come to the border.”

Mexican migrants represented the largest nationality at the border: 808,339 individuals accounting for 33% of all encounters. Guatemala, at 9.7%, and Honduras, at 8.9%, followed Mexico. Attempts from those in Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua surged in September, reaching 77,302 — a 245% increase since September 2021.

Political oppression, economic instability and human rights abuses in the latter three countries fueled the surge in recent months. Reichlin-Melnick said the administration has been largely unable to turn away migrants from Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua as they do not accept deportation flights from the United States.

The rise in crossing attempts by Venezuelans compelled the administration to take swift action. The Department of Homeland Security announced last month that the administration would accept 24,000 Venezuelans who have a financial sponsor in the U.S. Those who arrive in the country other than at legal ports of entries will be returned to Mexico under Title 42.

Reichlin-Melnick said the administration hoped that harsher enforcement — in addition to the alternative pathway — will lead “Venezuelans to choose not to leave in the first place.” But it is unclear whether the solution the administration it is offering is enough to meet the demand, he added.

In a similar move, the U.S. Embassy in Cuba said it would resume issuing full immigrant visas beginning in early 2023, nearly six years after it stopped the service. The embassy hopes to provide immigrant visas to at least 20,000 Cubans under the U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords. Individuals who are immediate family members of American citizens will be considered in a separate category and numbers are expected to be higher.

The administration is considering all feasible options to halt unauthorized entries. The administration aims to control the Southwest border and provide a legal way to emigrate to the United States.

In September, the administration announced that it had capped the number of refugee and asylum admissions to 125,000 for another year. The policy intends to grant permanent residency status by encouraging a legal immigration approach. But because of  staff shortages and embassy closures, only about 25,000 admissions were expected to be finalized in fiscal year 2022.

Expulsions under Title 42, a Trump-era public-health order that was introduced in the early days of the pandemic, comprised 45.3% of all unauthorized border crossings in fiscal year 2022. A federal judge on Nov. 15 blocked Title 42 and gave the administration five weeks to stop expulsions, effectively ending the program.

Under Title 42, DHS has the authority to expel migrants and consider their cases faster while they remain in Mexico, unlike Title 8. The latter forwards cases to an immigration judge and gives a court hearing date, which could take years.

To learn more about the Biden administration’s immigration policy, see IRW’s updated timeline.