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U.S. border officials record 25% jump in migrant crossings in March amid concerns of larger influx

Washington — The number of migrants apprehended by U.S. immigration authorities after crossing the Mexican border without authorization increased by 25% in March as the Biden administration prepares for a major policy shift next month.

U.S. Border Patrol agents recorded over 162,000 apprehensions of migrants in between official ports of entry last month, a jump from the 130,000 apprehensions reported in February, federal statistics released Monday show.

The increase in migration follows a historical pattern of border crossings spiking in the spring. Despite the uptick, the number of migrant apprehensions last month was lower than the tallies recorded in March 2021 and March 2022.

Still, unlawful migration to the U.S. southern border continues to be at historically high levels, and concerns of a broader influx of illegal crossings have intensified as U.S. officials prepare to discontinue a rule known as Title 42 that has allowed them to summarily expel hundreds of thousands of migrants during the coronavirus pandemic.

Absent any major policy pivot, the Department of Homeland Security is preparing for up to 13,000 migrants to cross the southern border per day, about 400,000 each month, once Title 42 lifts in early May, according to internal projections. The Trump-era order is set to lapse once the national COVID-19 public health emergency expires on May 11.

To address the potential spike in migration, the Biden administration is hoping to finalize a regulation on or before May 11 that would disqualify migrants from asylum if they enter the U.S. illegally after failing to ask for protection in a country other than the one they fled that they traversed to reach American soil. The rule is likely to be challenged in court by migrant advocates, who have denounced it as a Trump-like effort to gut U.S. asylum laws.

Hundreds of Venezuelan migrants cross the border between Mexico and the United States
Venezuelan migrants approach the U.S. Border Patrol by foot to cross the border and apply for humanitarian asylum in the United States on April 10, 2023, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. David Peinado/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The rise in migrant arrivals in March marks the first time that migration levels have increased significantly since President Biden announced a series of new measures earlier this year to discourage illegal border crossings and encourage migrants to wait for a chance to enter the U.S. legally.

In January, the Biden administration convinced Mexico to accept additional expelled migrants, expanding Title 42 to expel Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans who attempted to enter the country unlawfully. Previously, only migrants from Mexico, northern Central America and Venezuela could be expelled to Mexico.

At the same time, the administration started allowing migrants in Mexico to apply for a chance to enter the U.S. at a border port of entry through a mobile app known as CBP One. It also committed to admitting up to 30,000 migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela each month if Americans agreed to sponsor them.

In March, officials processed 22,865 asylum-seekers who secured appointments to enter the U.S. through the CBP One app, according to the government data published Monday. Another 27,783 migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela flew to the U.S. under the sponsorship program.

The increase in border apprehensions last month largely stemmed from an increase in crossings among migrants from Mexico, Colombia and Peru. The uptick occurred across demographics, with officials recording higher levels of apprehensions of single adults, families and unaccompanied children than in February.

Apprehensions of Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans remained very low compared to the massive number of border crossings among migrants from those countries late last year. But the number of Venezuelans attempting to cross the U.S. southern border illegally increased from February.

Border Patrol has reported over one million migrant apprehensions in fiscal year 2023, with another six months still to go. The agency recorded 2.2 million apprehensions along the southern border in fiscal year 2022, a record high.

Apprehension figures don't precisely denote the number of individuals processed by U.S. border officials, since some migrants attempt to enter the country multiple times after being expelled to Mexico. Roughly a quarter of those processed in March were repeat border-crossers, according to government statistics.  

Nearly 420,000, or over 40%, of the apprehensions recorded in the current fiscal year have led to migrants being expelled to Mexico or their home country under Title 42, government figures show. In March, Border Patrol carried out over 85,000 expulsions, the highest level since June 2022.

Migrants who are not expelled under Title 42 are either deported under regular immigration laws, sent to long-term detention centers or released with an opportunity to request asylum. Unaccompanied children who are not from Mexico are housed in federal shelters until U.S.-based sponsors claim them.

The unprecedented levels of migrant apprehensions recorded along the U.S.-Mexico border over the past years have coincided with a historic displacement crisis in the Western Hemisphere, where countries beset by economic and political tumult, such as Venezuela, have seen record numbers of their citizens flee north.

Nearly 250,000 migrants traversed Panama's Darién Gap in 2022 on their way to the U.S. and other destinations, an all-time high, according to official Panamanian government figures. In March alone, 38,000 migrants crossed the roadless and mountainous jungle — a 55% increase from February.

Last week, the governments in the U.S., Colombia and Panama announced a two-month operation to curb migrant smuggling in the Darién Gap, but did not disclose concrete details.

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