The number of migrant arrests carried out along the U.S.-Mexico border in fiscal year 2022 surpassed 2 million in August, an all-time high driven in part by unprecedented levels of migration from Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, according to government data published Monday.
Migrant encounters along the U.S. southern border rose slightly to 203,598 last month, reversing arecorded in the previous two months, the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data show.
The number included 181,160 Border Patrol arrests of migrants who entered the U.S. illegally, virtually the same level as in July, as well as 22,437 migrants and asylum-seekers processed at official ports of entry, a slight increase from the previous month.
With one month left, CBP officials stationed along the Mexican border have processed migrants over 2.1 million times in fiscal year 2022, a tally well above the previous record set in fiscal year 2021, when the agency recorded 1.7 million migrant encounters.
One million of the encounters recorded by CBP this fiscal year, however, have resulted in migrants being rapidly expelled to northern Mexico or their home country under Title 42, a coronavirus-era order that blocks access to the U.S. asylum system, the CBP statistics show.
The unprecedented encounters tally has also been inflated by a significant number of migrants trying to enter the U.S. multiple times — and being counted multiple times — after their expulsion to Mexico under Title 42, which does not carry criminal or immigration penalties, unlike traditional deportations.
In August, almost a quarter of all migrant encounters involved individuals who had been previously apprehended by U.S. border authorities in the past year, CBP said Monday.
One of the main factors fueling the high levels of migrant arrests over the past year under President Biden is the arrival of tens of thousands of migrants from Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua, who have journeyed to the U.S. border in record number in recent months.
In August, migrants from Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua made up over one-third of all border apprehensions. Their arrival is part of a broader, unprecedented increase in migration from outside Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, whose citizens accounted for the vast majority of migrants processed by U.S. border officials before the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than 25,000 Venezuelans entered U.S. border custody in August, a monthly record, making Venezuela the second-largest source of migrants to the southern border, behind Mexico.
Nearly 7 million Venezuelans have fled their homeland as part of the largest displacement crisis in the Western Hemisphere, according to the United Nations. While many settled in other South American nations like Colombia, Venezuelans hoping to reach the U.S. have been crossing the Darien Gap, Panama’s roadless jungle, in record numbers over the past month, Panamanian government data show.
CBP officials along the U.S.-Mexico border also processed more than 19,000 Cubans and nearly 12,000 Nicaraguans in August.
Unlike Mexicans and most Central Americans, the U.S. cannot generally deport Venezuelans, Cubans and Nicaraguans to Mexico or their home countries because of limits placed by Mexico and strained diplomatic relations with the authoritarian governments in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. Because of this, most migrants from these countries are processed and then released so they can continue their asylum cases inside the U.S.
The Biden administration has attributed the mass exodus from Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua to the policies of their leftist regimes and the dire economic circumstances faced by many people there.
“Failing communist regimes in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba are driving a new wave of migration across the Western Hemisphere, including the recent increase in encounters at the southwest U.S. border,” CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus said in a statement Monday.
This year’s unprecedented migration wave has created formidable operational and humanitarian challenges for the Biden administration, which came into office promising to create a more humane immigration system, including through the reversal of several Trump-era hardline border policies.
In El Paso, Texas, for example, U.S. border officials have been recently forced to release hundreds of migrants into the city because the holding capacity at its facilities has been exhausted.
The record levels of border arrests have also become a political liability for the Biden administration, with Republicans in Congress and in governors’ mansions across the country accusing it of being too lenient on migrants who enter the country unlawfully.
The political showdown over border policy has intensified this month due to efforts by Republican governors in Texas and Florida toto certain Democratic-led jurisdictions, including Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago and Martha’s Vineyard.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Florida Governor Rob DeSantis, both Republicans, have argued that jurisdictions with so-called “sanctuary” policies that limit cooperation with federal deportation agents are better equipped to receive migrants. They’ve also said the tactic is designed to pressure the administration to enact tougher border policies.
But the Biden administration and Democrats have denounced the migrant transportation scheme as inhumane, saying the Republican-led states are dehumanizing asylum-seekers for political gain.
One of the reasons that border encounters rose in August was the Biden administration’s continued effort to increase processing of asylum-seekers at ports of entry, which experts believe dissuades some migrants from entering the country illegally.
In August, U.S. officials at ports of entry along the southern border admitted 15,906 asylum-seekers deemed to be vulnerable under humanitarian exemptions to Title 42, a 37% jump from July, according to government data shared with a federal court.
Just over 130,000 of Border Patrol arrests in August involved single adult migrants, half of whom were expelled; 39,221 involved parents and children traveling as families, most of whom are released with court notices; and 11,013 involved unaccompanied minors, who are transferred to government shelters, according to CBP data.
While migrant arrests have reached record levels under Biden, overall illegal border crossingsin the early 2000s, when Border Patrol had fewer agents and technology to apprehend individuals, including those seeking to evade detection.