With this series of weekly updates, WOLA seeks to cover the most important developments at the U.S.-Mexico border. See past weekly updates here.
The days after May 11, when the Title 42 policy came to an end, saw migration at the border reduce by more than half from a week earlier. Migrants and smugglers, unclear about the implications of new Biden administration limits on asylum, appear to be in “wait and see” mode, while Mexico and other countries have increased their security-force presence along the migration route. Some indicators point to the lull being temporary.
CBP reported a 10 percent increase in the number of migrants encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border from March to April. Much of the increase was due to citizens of Venezuela, who appeared to face a lower probability of Title 42 expulsion into Mexico than in prior months. CBP gave asylum seekers an average of 743 “CBP One” appointments per day at ports of entry.
Despite a lack of government reporting, a reading of CBP port-of-entry arrival data seems to indicate that Haiti is the nationality that has most frequently gained humanitarian parole into the United States, under a recently launched Biden administration program for four countries, in March and April. Haitian parolees are followed by citizens of Cuba, Venezuela (whose numbers are declining), and Nicaragua.
San Diego-area advocates filed a strongly worded, vividly illustrated complaint with DHS about Border Patrol’s recent practice of leaving asylum seekers to wait for days—with minimal food, water, shelter, or medical attention—between the border wall’s two layers.
In the four days leading up to May 11, the final day of the Title 42 pandemic expulsion authority, the number of migrants whom U.S. authorities encountered at the border averaged 10,100 per day. After May 11, amid uncertainty about how the Biden administration would carry out its new restrictions on access to asylum, unauthorized entries at the border dropped 56 percent, to 4,400 per day.
The numbers come from Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Border and Immigration Policy Blas Nuñez Neto, who told reporters on May 17 that they include a 98% drop in the number of Venezuelan migrants ending up in Border Patrol custody. (As noted below, Venezuelan migrant encounters between ports of entry had leapt upward in April.)
“At Gate 42 of the border wall with El Paso, the number of migrants arriving has dwindled since Friday,” the New York Times reported. The Washington Post reported that 21,000 migrants were in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody on May 15, “down about 30 percent from last week’s peak.” This is despite a Florida federal judge’s temporary restraining order prohibiting CBP from releasing migrants without notices to appear, a faster process used during times of overcrowding.
Nuñez Neto attributed the drop to “the consequences that we have strengthened and put in place for unlawful entry.” These include the Biden administration’s new rule mostly banning asylum for non-Mexicans who fail to make an appointment or be rejected for asylum in at least one other country, as well as expanded use of “expedited removal” procedures forcing asylum seekers to defend their cases within days. Among reasons for the decline in migration, Nuñez Neto also cited new legal pathways for some migrants, like humanitarian parole and the CBP One smartphone app, as well as “the actions of our foreign partners”—especially increased deployments of security forces in Mexico, Guatemala, Panama, and Colombia.
Nuñez Neto said on May 15 that the U.S. government had already deported 2,400 people under the new “transit ban” rule, most of them Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans—but also some Mexicans—back across the border into Mexico. Mexico, in turn, has begun transporting these deportees to its southernmost states, away from the U.S. border. A tweet from CBP praised a Mexican government flight that transported Venezuelan migrants from Reynosa, across from Texas, to “interior parts of Mexico.”
Mexico also deployed 690 more members of its armed forces and National Guard—for a total of 26,535—to its northern and southern borders. State police forces in border states like Chihuahua also increased their presence.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official warned that “it is still too early to draw any definitive conclusions” about migration patterns. A key cause of the post-May 11 drop is a temporary condition: migrants’ confusion about the administration’s new policies.
As WOLA explained in a column published by MSNBC, the drop owes in large part to migrants, and smugglers, adopting a “wait and see” stance as the administration rolls out its new measures. “It’s not surprising that migrants who’ve reached Mexico are pausing before taking a leap into the unknown,” we wrote, noting that past “wait and see” moments brought sharp reductions in migration in 2014, 2017, and 2020, only to be followed soon after by increases. Something similar is likely to happen in the coming months.
Social media—which often includes a heavy dose of misinformation—plays a greater role than ever in migrants’ “wait and see” calculations. They “have increasingly turned to TikTok, Facebook, YouTube and other social media sites not just for the comfort of family contact but also for updates on the policy change and how it might affect them,” Marisa Gerber reported at the Los Angeles Times. “The hashtag #titulo42 was viewed more than 109 million times on TikTok by Friday afternoon,” the Washington Post reported.
In Mexico’s border cities, shelters appear to be emptier: at about 40 percent capacity, perhaps, in Ciudad Juárez. Evidence that the drop in migration may be fleeting, however, comes from areas further south in Mexico and elsewhere along the northbound route, where numbers remain high. UNHCR Mexico tweeted its concern on May 17 about migrant shelters in the country’s south, which are reaching capacity. “In addition to the people arriving from the south, some shelters have already received Venezuelans deported from the United States, who have no information about their process, and face a lack of reception capacity in Mexico and uncertainty about their legal (or migratory) status.”
A consular official cited in Mexico’s La Jornada reported “a lot of people entering through the border between Guatemala and Honduras” on May 12. “There we saw the International Red Cross, UNHCR and IOM, with camps. There is a lot of movement of people. The city of Esquipulas [Guatemala]… was full of people going north.”
CBP reported on May 17 that the agency encountered 211,401 migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border in April, the last full month of the Title 42 policy. That is the 9th-largest monthly total of the Biden administration’s 27 months, and a 10 percent increase over March (191,956).
Some of that increase is seasonal. The milder spring months are often the busiest of the year for migration at the border. Two thirds of April’s encounters were with single adults, whose numbers increased 5 percent over March. People arriving as family units increased 28 percent, while unaccompanied children decreased 7 percent.
CBP applied Title 42 to 35 percent of encountered migrants in April, expelling 74,027 of them in the name of “public health,” without affording a chance to request asylum. Over the life of the Title 42 policy (since March 2020), CBP expelled 49 percent of the migrants it encountered, for a 38-month total of 2,861,755 expulsions (plus whoever was expelled during the first 11 days of May 2023).
CBP’s Border Patrol component encountered 182,114 people between the official land ports of entry (13th of 27 months), 12 percent more than in March (162,371).
CBP encountered 29,287 migrants at the land ports of entry in April (4th of 27 months), nearly identical to March (29,585). Of those, according to a May 16 court filing, 22,284 had secured appointments ahead of time using a feature on CBP’s “CBP One” smartphone app. The border-wide total of 743 CBP One appointments per day was a drop from March (764) but consistent with totals reported since December.
In the first five days after May 11, CBP processed 5,000 migrants at ports of entry who had made appointments with the app, said Nuñez Neto, the DHS official. CBP reported that it addressed some of CBP One’s persistent bugs, including “reported challenges related to geolocation and error messages due to bandwidth issues with a third-party software for liveness.”
The nationalities of migrants encountered at the border changed little from March to April.
(WOLA’s Border Oversight page includes similar tables separating out migrants encountered by Border Patrol and at ports of entry.)
The main exceptions were:
In October 2022, using an authority that has been part of U.S. law since the 1950s, the Biden administration created a program allowing up to 24,000 citizens of Venezuela to apply online for a two-year humanitarian parole status within the United States, with the ability to apply for a work permit (see WOLA’s October 14 Border Update). The parole program is available to those who have passports and U.S.-based sponsors, who may fly into U.S. airports upon approval. In January, the administration expanded the program to include citizens of Cuba, Haiti, and Nicaragua, raising the overall cap to 30,000 per month.
We know from CBP releases that the agency paroled 11,637 people from these 4 countries in January, 22,755 in February, 27,783 in March, and 28,738 in April. But the government has not been sharing data about how many parolees came from each country.
A creative search of CBP’s migrant encounter data, however, reveals a close approximation. When searching CBP’s non-border ports of entry (largely airports) for those four countries and “Title 8” (a term referring to all outcomes under regular, non-Title-42 immigration law, including parole), the resulting monthly totals are only about 1 percent larger than what CBP’s releases report.
This data shows that while Venezuela and Cuba accounted for most parole grants during January and February, the number-one country since March is now Haiti, about 36 percent of the total in April. Haitians were followed in April by citizens of Cuba (25 percent), Venezuela (21 percent), and Nicaragua (18 percent).
Since the program’s first full month, November 2022, Venezuela—whose citizens were the only nationality able to access parole in November and December—accounts for 37 percent of the approximately 103,000 grants of parole, followed by Haiti (28 percent), Cuba (22 percent), and Nicaragua (13 percent). Numbers of Venezuelans getting humanitarian parole (blue in the chart) have in fact been declining since February.
On May 18 U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that it was updating its review process for applications under the parole program, because the number of applications from potential U.S.-based sponsors “is significantly higher than the 30,000 monthly travel authorizations available.”
The Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC) filed a complaint with DHS’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties alleging that CBP “is detaining migrants in cruel, inhuman and degrading conditions in an open-air corridor in California.” The document contains several troubling photos of a serious humanitarian crisis that the U.S. border agency has allowed to persist for weeks. This issue was first reported by local media in mid-April and (with a smaller number of migrants involved) in October 2022.
South of San Diego, the border wall has two layers. The entire area, including the “no man’s land” between the two rows of fencing, is on U.S. soil. If migrants manage to get past the first row, they are in the United States and have the legal right to ask for asylum.
“Around 10 days ago,” the New York Times reported, “a migrant camp sprung up between the two border walls, with hundreds of people hoping to be allowed into the United States.” About 1,000 people have gotten past the first barrier—a Colombian man told the Times of paying “$1,500 to smugglers who sawed a hole in the fence on the Mexico side”—but were then stranded, as Border Patrol agents delayed for days before processing them.
With minimal access to food, water, sanitation, shelter, or medical attention, people from at least 15 countries, including more than a few children, have spent as many as 7 days, according to SBCC, out in the open air between the wall layers, fashioning shelters from bits of plastic. Some used their mobile phones—charged with the help of volunteers on the other side of the fence—to order food deliveries from Tijuana.
“CBP agents have only given migrants one small bottle of water a day and one granola bar, far from adequate to endure, leading migrants to eat leaves to survive,” SBCC reported. “CBP has provided only one port-a-potty for hundreds of people, which filled up weeks ago and is unusable.”
Over the weekend of May 13-14, CBP started to empty out two San Diego encampments, processing migrants 30 to 50 at a time.
SBCC also reported on a May 15 survey of migrants stuck in an open-air site in Jacumba, California, about 75 miles east of San Diego, carried out by the U.S. Immigration Policy Center (USIPC) at the University of California San Diego. 100 percent of migrants “said border agents were not giving them enough food and 53 percent said they were not giving them enough water for the day.” Two-thirds agreed with the statement, “If I did not receive food and water from volunteers, I would not get enough food and water from Border Patrol to survive.”