Unauthorized Migration Across the Mexico-U.S. Border Slips

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After a major influx of migrants overwhelmed the Southwestern border throughout much of the spring and summer, unauthorized crossings in October were down for the third straight month, federal authorities announced Monday, with the number of Haitians plummeting by more than 90 percent.

But the drop in Haitian apprehensions probably signals only a temporary pause, as tens of thousands of people from the troubled Caribbean nation were continuing to trek north from South America or were stalled in Mexico, still hoping to reach the United States, border analysts said.

The U.S. Border Patrol intercepted 164,303 people overall along the border with Mexico, a 14 percent decrease from September.

That included 902 Haitians, compared with more than 17,600 who crossed in September, many of them facing squalid conditions near Del Rio, Texas, after wading across the Rio Grande. The September surge, which took place over a few days, posed an urgent challenge for the Biden administration, which responded with dozens of deportation flights that returned more than 8,500 Haitians to their home country, even as many other migrants were allowed to remain or were expelled a short distance across the border to Mexico.

Biden administration officials said that the deportations were consistent with its enforcement policy. But the sometimes harsh treatment and speedy removals have been condemned by human rights advocates, who said desperate migrants were being returned to a country ravaged by natural disasters and a political and security crisis.

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Migrants wade between Mexico and the United States near Del Rio, Texas, as they wait for their turn to seek asylum in the United States in September.Credit…Veronica G. Cardenas for The New York Times

“It’s clear that the recent spike in Haitian expulsions provided a short-term deterrent,” said Jessica Bolter, a policy analyst at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute. “It’s less clear that it will have a long-term effect.”

“We have seen in the past periods when migrants were willing to pause and wait and see what the new situation was on the ground before continuing on their journeys north,” said Ms. Bolter.

After former President Donald J. Trump took office, unauthorized entries across the U.S.-Mexico border tumbled, only to steadily rise again as migrants realized that Mr. Trump’s pledge to build a border wall would take time, and that not everyone would be deported, she said.

Facing U.S. pressure, Mexican authorities have been trying in the last month to stop Haitians and Central Americans from traveling north to the United States after they enter Mexico from Guatemala.

At least 20,000 Haitians are currently stranded in the town of Tapachula near the Guatemalan border, according to independent estimates. The majority of them had been living for years in Chile, where immigration policies have hardened, or Brazil, where the economy has been pounded by the coronavirus pandemic.

Haitians now account for the majority of asylum applicants in Mexico even though their goal in most cases is solely to receive the documents that will enable them to advance toward the United States. Only after registering are Haitians allowed to travel freely within Mexico.

As of Nov. 1, the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance had received about 38,000 asylum applications from Haitians in 2021, more than 20,000 of them during the months of August, September and October, an influx that created a monthslong backlog.

“The numbers of Haitians has come down because Mexico is preventing people from leaving Tapachula to continue their journey to the Mexican-U.S. border,” said Guerline Jozef, executive director of Haitian Bridge Alliance, an advocacy group.

“They cannot leave the area without proper documentation,” she said. “If they try, they will be detained by Mexican authorities.”

She said the rush of thousands of Haitians across the U.S. border in September was a result of misinformation, with many believing that they would be allowed to enter.

Unauthorized crossings from other countries also fell in October.

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Migrants, mostly from Central America, walk north along a highway outside of Huixtla, Mexico, last month. The migrants had been waiting in nearby Tapachula, near the Guatemalan border, for refugee or asylum papers that might allow them to travel, but grew tired of delays and left.Credit…Marco Ugarte/Associated Press

The ability of nationals from countries such as Ecuador and Brazil to enter Mexico without visas had prompted many people from those countries to travel by air to Mexico, where smugglers met them and guided them across the border.

But Mexico recently started requiring visas from Ecuadoreans, which likely accounts for a plunge in unauthorized crossings of people from that country into the United States, with arrivals down to 744 from 7,353 in September. Mexico was expected to begin requiring visas from Brazilians later this month.

Arrivals were up last month for Nicaragua, to 9,212 from 7,298 in September, and Venezuela, to 13,406 from 10,814 the previous month. Both countries have been wracked by political instability.

“Clearly the pressure imposed by the U.S. on Mexico to increase its own enforcement and tighten its visa policies has had an impact on very recent migration flows,” Ms. Bolter said. “Ultimately, this is still a region that is facing economic and political crises and we will continue to see migration from the region to the United States.”

The U.S. Border Patrol intercepted more than 1.7 million unauthorized migrants in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the highest number recorded since at least 1960, when the government first began tracking such entries.

However, many were repeat crossers — migrants who had been quickly expelled to Mexico under a pandemic emergency measure known as Title 42, only to try again and again.

Of those crossing last month, 29 percent had made at least one previous attempt over the past 12 months.

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