U.S. starts flying migrants caught crossing Canadian border south to Texas

Migrants have been illegally crossing the northern border into the U.S. at historically high levels. Nearly all the migrants flown to Texas border cities so far have been Mexican.

Migrants transferred from Plattsburgh, N.Y., get off a plane Tuesday in El Paso, Texas.Jose Luis Gonzalez / Reuters via Redux

As migrants cross illegally into the U.S. from Canada at historically high levels, U.S. officials have begun flying migrants apprehended at the northern border south to Texas. 

To date, at least two flights — one on March 13 to Harlingen, Texas, and another on March 21 to El Paso — have departed from Plattsburgh, New York, carrying a total of 82 migrants expelled under the Covid ban known as Title 42, a Customs and Border Protection spokesperson told NBC News.

“Individuals will receive final processing at CBP [southwest border] facilities," said a CBP spokesperson. "All of these individuals were recently apprehended by [the U.S. Border Patrol] after crossing the northern U.S. border. These transfers are done to decompress facilities and better utilize resources and personnel.”

The flights were first reported by Reuters.

The flights come as the number of illegal border crossings in the Swanton Sector of the U.S. border, which covers New Hampshire, Vermont and a portion of northern New York, has surged over the past five months to nearly 10 times its level during the same time period last year, according to CBP data. 

From Oct. 1 to Feb. 28, about 2,000 migrants were apprehended crossing the border illegally in the Swanton Sector, compared to just 200 crossings in the same period the previous year. 

According to border officials and local law enforcement, most of the migrants crossing into the Swanton Sector are from Mexico. The two repatriation flights recorded in March contained only one migrant, a Colombian, who was not a Mexican national.

NBC News previously reported on the growing number of Mexican migrants traveling to the northern border using visa-less flights from Cancun and Mexico City to Canada, and then crossing the land border into the U.S. on foot, often with the help of human smugglers or “coyotes.” Migrants of other nationalities, including Haitians and Guatemalans, have also attempted to make their way south into the U.S. from Canada. 

Local law enforcement and residents in well-traversed areas such as Clinton County, New York, said they would like more help from the federal government to deal with the migrant foot traffic. Some migrants have had to be rescued and treated for frostbite after walking through the often snow-covered forest that straddles the border.

“Responding to the daily calls that we’re getting of people knocking on doors in the middle of the night, being in storage sheds and garages, that makes it very, very difficult,” Clinton County Sheriff David Favro said. “And that does tax our resources quite a bit. So we certainly could utilize more bodies.”

Earlier this month, CBP detailed 25 extra agents, some from the southern border, to the Swanton Sector.