WASHINGTON — The number of undocumented immigrants apprehended trying to cross the southern border is down slightly compared to this time last month, when crossings were at a 21-year high, according to data obtained by NBC News.
As of Friday, the 21-day average of immigrants stopped crossing the U.S.-Mexico border by Customs and Border Protection was 6,177 per day, down from 7,275 in mid-August.
In most years, the number of immigrants encountered has increased slightly between August and September, as cooler weather patterns allow for a safer passage.
The decrease is largely due to increased enforcement by Mexico along its southern border and newly started flights from the U.S. that expel immigrants to Mexico and Guatemala before they can claim asylum, according to one former and two current senior Department of Homeland Security officials.
But, those officials say, Mexico may soon be reaching its capacity to stop Central American migrants from crossing its border with Guatemala, as well as reaching its capacity to receive those migrants sent back from the U.S.
The U.S. flights to the interior of Mexico include many migrants from Honduras and El Salvador, as part of an agreement the Biden administration struck with Mexico in order to enforce Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authority that allows the U.S. to expel asylum seekers during a pandemic.
The Biden administration had internally discussed ending Title 42 at the end of July, but as the number of migrants crossing the border rose and the number of Delta variant cases rose, the U.S. reversed course. Instead of ending Title 42, it invoked the authority to increase its expulsions of asylum seekers.
Even as the total number of migrants stopped at the border has decreased, the daily number of those expelled has increased slightly — from 2,550 on Aug. 11, to 2,733 on Sept. 10.
CBP has not publicly released its August apprehension numbers, but they are expected to fall below July’s 21-year high. That rise triggered DHS to deploy Immigration and Customs Enforcement to begin processing newly arrived migrants in an effort to alleviate overcrowding at border stations.
One source directly involved with internal discussions said the pressure on DHS from the White House to get a handle on migration across the southern border has cooled over the past two weeks, as border crossings have dropped and attention has instead turned to DHS’s ability to vet and process incoming Afghan evacuees. The White House estimates it will resettle roughly 95,000 Afghans in the U.S. as a result of the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country.