A sharp drop in illegal border crossings along the Southwest border that started in January after the Biden administration announced stricter immigration measures continued into February, the administration announced Wednesday.
The data released by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection paints a picture of who is attempting to enter the country at a time of intense political controversy with Republicans seeing immigration as a potent issue with voters and accusing President Biden and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas of not doing enough to secure the southern border.
U.S. Border Patrol officials encountered migrants 128,877 times trying to cross the border in February between the legal border crossings. That’s about the same as January’s number — 128,913 — and is the lowest number of encounters per month since February 2021, the agency said.
The numbers of encounters doesn’t necessarily equate to individual people since some migrants try repeatedly to cross the border. The agency said about 25% of those encountered in February were repeat encounters meaning that at some time during the last 12 months they’d been detained by U.S. officials as they tried to enter the country.
In comparison, U.S. officials stopped migrants 221,693 times between the ports of entry along the Mexican border in December.
Then in early January the administration announced a new policy in which Mexico would take back Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans under a pandemic-era rule that denies migrants the right to seek asylum as part of an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The number of migrants intercepted from those four countries plunged after the new policy went into effect and remained low during February.
At the same time they announced the new policy, the U.S. also agreed to admit up to 30,000 people a month from those four nations on a process called humanitarian parole if they applied online, entered at an airport and found a financial sponsor. According to the CBP figures, 22,755 Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans were paroled into the country through that process in February. Humanitarian parole differs from other immigration pathways in large part because it’s temporary — often only for a year or two — and doesn’t provide a long-term pathway to live in the U.S.
The administration has also proposed generally denying asylum to anyone who travels though another country on their way to the U.S. without seeking protection there — effectively all non-Mexicans who appear at the U.S. southern border. That proposal, which has met with stiff criticism from immigration rights advocates, is currently in a 30-day comment period before it is expected to go into effect when Title 42 expires in May.
According to the CBP report, drug seizures were also up 6% in February compared to January. Fentanyl seizures specifically were up 58%.