The Biden administration is linking lower numbers of migrant encounters at the southern border in March compared to the same time last year to its ongoing efforts to discourage illegal entry by expanding legal pathways – as the Department of Homeland Security prepares for the end of Title 42 next month.
There were 191,899 encounters along the southern border in March, down 14% from 222,574 in March 2022, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced Monday. It marks a 23% increase from the 156,138 encounters seen in February, although increases in encounters are typical as the spring and summer months arrive. Over two-thirds (69%) of all encounters were of single adults.
Specifically, Border Patrol encounters of migrants along the southwest border entering illegally between ports of entry – 162,317 in March 2023 – are down 23% from March 2022 (211,181) and 4% from March 2021 (169,216). An administration official also noted that the increase in Border Patrol encounters between February and March is lower (25%) than the prior two years (33% and 73% for 2022 and 2021.)
The administration has pointed to measures introduced in January that expanded Title 42 expulsions to include Venezuelans, Nicaraguans, Cubans and Haitians – four nationalities whose encounters had spiked in the prior months. The measures, which were followed by a sharp drop in encounters from a record high in December, also included a humanitarian parole program that allows for up to 30,000 of those nationalities to fly into the U.S. each month if they have not entered illegally and meet certain other criteria including background checks and having a sponsor. In March, 27,783 migrants of those four nationalities were paroled into the U.S.
Numbers remained relatively low through January and February compared to recent years, and while they have increased in March overall, the administration believes those measures are having an impact.
‘The January border enforcement measures continue to hold strong even against the typical migration patterns seen as we enter the warmer months,’ the administration official told Fox News Digital. ‘This month’s encounters are down 23% from last year, and the month-over-month change is the lowest seasonal increase seen in two years.’
Additionally, average encounters of the four nationalities are down from a 7-day average of 1,231 in early January to 339 at the end of March.
While numbers in 2023 have so far been approximately the same or lower than 2022, it is unclear if that will change once the Title 42 public health order ends on May 11. The order, instituted in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has been used by both the Trump and Biden administrations to quickly expel hundreds of thousands of migrants at the border and has become a key tool in the ongoing migrant crisis now into its third year. In March, 87,662 (46%) of encounters ended in a Title 42 expulsion.
The order will end along with the COVID-19 public health emergency and officials are concerned about a potentially massive surge at the border once the order drops as migrants believe they have a greater chance of being released into the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have pushed back against what they say is misinformation being spread by smugglers.
‘CBP will continue to enforce our immigration laws and ramp up efforts to combat smuggler misinformation as we prepare to return to expedited removal proceedings under Title 8 authorities, which carry stricter consequences like a five-year ban on reentry and potential criminal prosecution for unlawful entry,’ acting CBP Commissioner Troy Miller said in a statement on Monday.
The administration has taken a number of actions to tackle any such surge, including a multi-faceted plan which includes cooperation with NGOs and international partners as well as a surge in resources to the border.
More recently, the administration announced a proposed rule that would make migrants ineligible for asylum if they have crossed into the U.S. illegally and have failed to claim asylum in a country through which they previously traveled.
In anticipation of the order dropping, the administration has also temporarily paused an asylum reform that would allow asylum officers to adjudicate asylum claims at the border within months. It has also launched a pilot program to have migrants hold their ‘credible fear’ interviews while still in CBP custody.
Those moves have seen pushback from immigration rights activists, who claim such measures interfere with the right of migrants to claim asylum in the U.S. Meanwhile, the administration is also facing pressure from Republicans – who have sought to tie the ongoing crisis to the reversal of Trump-era policies by the Biden administration. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has faced a number of grillings on the Hill from Republicans, and will appear before the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Tuesday.
The administration has taken aim at Republicans for failing to approve funding requests for border readiness, while also calling on Congress to fix what it says is a ‘broken’ immigration system.