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.
THIS WEEK IN BRIEF:
Preliminary data revealed by the Washington Post point to Border Patrol apprehensions of migrants increasing from just under 100,000 to about 130,000 from June to July. The lull in migration that followed the end of the Title 42 policy has ended. This erodes the narrative that the Biden administration’s tough new asylum rule—recently struck down by a federal court but still in place for now—has deterred migration. Rights groups filed a new legal challenge to CBP’s use of its “CBP One” app to limit asylum seekers’ access to ports of entry. Meanwhile, data from Panama, Honduras, and elsewhere point to continued increases in migration.
The past week’s developments in Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) “Operation Lone Star” include revelations that Texas police are arresting migrant fathers for “trespassing” and separating them from their families; the discovery of two deceased people’s remains in or near the “buoy wall” that Abbott ordered built in the Rio Grande at Eagle Pass in July; the Eagle Pass City Council’s revocation of a legal document that Operation Lone Star has used to carry out its activities there; and the Biden administration’s imminent drawdown of active-duty troops deployed border-wide in May.
As of July 27, the appropriations committees of the Democratic-majority Senate and the Republican-majority House of Representatives have both approved draft legislation funding the Department of Homeland Security in 2024. The bills, which Congress must reconcile into a single budget, differ widely in overall amounts, and in border-relevant items like funding for wall construction, Border Patrol hiring, shelter funds, and ICE detention beds.
THE FULL UPDATE:
Border Patrol apprehensions increased 30% in July
Citing preliminary data from Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Washington Post reported that Border Patrol’s apprehensions of migrants between the U.S.-Mexico border’s ports of entry jumped by more than 30 percent from June to July. “U.S. agents made more than 130,000 arrests along the Mexico border last month, preliminary figures show, up from 99,545 in June,” reporters Nick Miroff and Maria Sacchetti revealed.
The fastest growth was in Border Patrol’s Tucson sector, which comprises most of Arizona, despite a long string of days there with temperatures exceeding 110 degrees. The 40,000 apprehensions in July were the most that the Tucson sector has measured since April 2008. As recently as December 2022, Tucson was in 5th place for migrant apprehensions among Border Patrol’s 9 U.S.-Mexico border sectors. Unnamed CBP officials told the Post that migrant smugglers have shifted to desert areas west of Nogales “because they know U.S. authorities have limited detention space and migrants who cross into Arizona are more likely to be quickly released.”
NBC News, also citing preliminary data, reported that Border Patrol’s daily average apprehensions of family-unit members (parents traveling with children) tripled from early June to late July, from 790 to 2,230 per day. An unnamed CBP official told the Washington Post that “parents with children comprise about half of the migrants currently held in CBP custody.”
Based on current trends, NBC predicted that August’s Border Patrol migrant apprehensions could increase to 160,000. If that happens, migration will have recovered to the high levels last seen in May (171,387), the last month before the Biden administration replaced the Title 42 pandemic policy with a restrictive new asylum rule. Migration dropped sharply in the weeks after Title 42’s termination, but as WOLA’s recent Border Updates have noted, that lull is now ending.
The asylum rule, facing revocation
As covered in many recent updates, the Biden administration had replaced Title 42 with an administrative rule that blocks access to asylum, with some exceptions, to all non-Mexican migrants who (a) come to the border between ports of entry (land border crossings), instead of making an appointment using Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) “CBP One” smartphone app; and (b) did not try and fail to seek asylum in at least one other country along their route. People subjected to the rule are deported—and deported into Mexico if they are citizens of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, or Venezuela—and banned from entry into the United States for five years.
In a July 27 exchange with Spanish-language journalists, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) assistant secretary for border and immigration policy, Blas Núñez-Neto, revealed that since the rule went into effect on May 11, his Department has deported more than 85,000 people to 115 countries (not all of them asylum seekers). Of that total, 4,000 of the deportees were citizens of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela returned back into Mexico, as the Mexican government agreed when Title 42 ended. The rest are Mexican citizens sent back to Mexico, or other countries’ citizens placed aboard deportation flights, which total about 120 per month.
The emerging July apprehension totals indicate that this asylum rule is not deterring desperate migrants. “Each crackdown is followed by a short-term drop in apprehensions, as migrants adopt a “wait and see” approach,” Dara Lind observed in a July 28 analysis for the American Immigration Council’s Immigration Impact site. “But as it becomes clear that at least some people are successfully getting into the U.S. – and as situations in migrants’ home countries, or the countries they’re waiting in, may become harder to bear – border apprehensions start to increase again.”
As noted in WOLA’s July 28 Border Update, the asylum ban is in legal peril anyway. A U.S. district judge struck it down on July 25, agreeing with migrant rights defenders who argued that it is contrary to existing law guaranteeing the right to seek asylum. The Biden administration is appealing this decision, and on August 3 the federal judiciary’s Ninth Circuit kept the asylum rule in place while deliberations continue. Should the Ninth Circuit’s eventual decision concur with the district court and strike the rule down, the administration may go to the Supreme Court.
203 civil, human rights, and immigrant rights organizations (including WOLA) signed an August 2 letter to President Joe Biden asking him to desist from appealing the district judge’s July 25 decision and “redouble your focus on effective, humane, and legal solutions.” A letter to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Attorney General Merrick Garland from 13 U.S. senators and 53 representatives, all Democrats, called for an end to application of “expedited removal” to asylum seekers, a process requiring people to defend their cases within days of apprehension while still in CBP’s austere custody conditions, usually with no access to counsel.
CBP One, an insufficient “carrot”
Along with its tough asylum rule, the Biden administration has sought to keep post-Title 42 Border Patrol apprehensions low by steering asylum seekers to the ports of entry (official border crossings), creating a system of appointments accessible from northern Mexico using CBP One, a smartphone app. CBP One appointments now total 1,450 per day, leading in recent months to record numbers of migrants able to access the ports of entry instead of crossing rivers, climbing border fencing, or otherwise ending up in Border Patrol custody.
That number of appointments still means migrants must wait, usually unemployed and insecure, for weeks or months in Mexican border cities before they get a chance to approach the ports of entry. In Matamoros, across from Brownsville, Texas, that has spurred the formation of a massive encampment of migrants along a mile-long stretch of the Rio Grande, despite a recent reported increase—from 350 to 600 per day—in CBP One appointments at the Brownsville port of entry.
In the midst of a deadly, historic heat wave in much of the border zone, this has been intolerable for many migrants, Sister Norma Pimentel, who runs Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley and its migrant shelter services in south Texas, told NBC News. “She said many of the families who come to her shelter are there because they can no longer wait in the ‘merciless heat’ and live under the threat of violence in Mexico.”