The number of migrants illegally crossing the southwest U.S. border is at its lowest point since the start of the Biden administration, with just over 3,000 migrants stopped by Border Patrol each day. The number has plummeted from more than 10,000 daily just three weeks ago, despite widespread predictions of a surge after the end of the Title 42 Covid ban on May 11.
And there may also be fewer migrants waiting just across the border to cross. Shortly before Title 42 was lifted, Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz estimated that up to 65,000 migrants were living in shelters and tent cities in Mexico, ready to enter the U.S. While numbers for tent cities were unavailable, the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration said the population of 130-plus shelters in northern Mexico had fallen from above 25,000 on May 19 to just over 20,000 on Monday.
More migrants are using the asylum app: Shelter operators in Tijuana say migrants in their shelters are increasingly turning to the CBP One App, the mobile application to book appointments at U.S. ports of entry to seek asylum.
Although the app remains glitchy and hard to use, recent improvements have allowed over 1,000 migrants a day to use it and have a 23-hour window to book appointments and an additional 23 hours to accept, according to a new study by the University of Texas at Austin’s Strauss Center, which conducted a recent survey of asylum procedures across the U.S.-Mexico border. Previously, migrants were quickly shut out of the system when it reached daily capacity, leading to frustration and, in one case, a rush on the port of entry in El Paso, Texas. With more migrants applying to legally present themselves for asylum, fewer are trying to cross illegally.
“Consequences”: Customs and Border Protection officials also attribute the slowdown in illegal border crossings to “consequences.” Under Title 42, migrants could repeatedly try to cross the U.S.-Mexico border and face no consequences if they were turned back. After Title 42 ended, migrants who are caught illegally entering the U.S. are charged with a felony if they are deported and caught trying to re-enter the U.S. within five years, a reimposition of an older regulation called Title 8. A CBP official said word of the increased penalties and deportations — of the “consequences” — has reached migrants considering crossing.
Other factors that may be keeping the numbers low, however, are more temporary, say U.S. and foreign officials watching global migration patterns.
Weather: A Colombian official said fewer migrants have been crossing from Colombia into Panama along the dangerous Darien Gap in recent weeks because of the rainy season, which has made the journey all the more muddy, slick and treacherous. The Colombian official said that as the weather improves, he expects the number of migrants, particularly those from Venezuela, to increase.
New asylum restrictions: A Department of Homeland Security official said the agency also attributes the decline to the policy known as asylum ineligibility put in place after the ending of Title 42. Under the new policy, migrants who do not first seek asylum in countries they pass through on the way to the U.S. are deemed ineligible to apply for asylum at the U.S. border, unless they were denied by a country they passed through or they prove they meet a special set of criteria, such as being potential victims of torture if they are deported.
But the American Civil Liberties Union has asked a federal judge in the Northern District of California to block the asylum ineligibility policy. The first hearing is set for July 19. The DHS official said that if the judge blocks the policy and prevents the Biden administration from denying asylum to those migrants, the administration may soon see more migrants trying to cross illegally to claim asylum rather than using the CBP One App.
Meanwhile, group chats on WhatsApp among migrants hoping to make their way to the U.S. remain active with advice, ads and firsthand accounts about what to expect in a post-Title 42 environment.
“Could anyone send me a VPN (Virtual Private Network) that would work to apply from my country?” a person asked in a CBP One WhatsApp group, providing a screenshot of an error message from the app saying they must be in Mexico to ask for an appointment.
In another group chat, smugglers also continue to offer their services by way of videos and images vouching for their “success” getting migrants through and around the Darien Gap using boats.
“I am not lying to my people. Zero danger. No crossing the jungle. The safest route. We have the best prices,” said a user, sharing a video from a guide named “Manuelito” featuring a group of migrants cheering and donning life jackets as they load onto boats.