Contrary to Expectations, Migrant Crossings Plummet After Title 42 Covid Ban Ends in May: Unveiling Temporary Factors Behind Record-Low Numbers

Record Low Migrant Crossings at U.S. Southwest Border Since Start of Biden Administration, Border Patrol Reports

The number of migrants crossing the southwestern U.S. border illegally has reached its lowest point since the beginning of the Biden administration, with Border Patrol intercepting just over 3,000 migrants each day. This represents a significant decrease from over 10,000 daily apprehensions observed just three weeks ago, defying widespread predictions of a surge following the expiration of the Title 42 Covid ban on May 11.

Moreover, indications suggest a reduced presence of migrants awaiting entry just across the border. Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz had previously estimated that approximately 65,000 migrants were residing in shelters and makeshift camps in Mexico, prepared to enter the United States. Although specific numbers for tent cities remain undisclosed, the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration reported a decline in the population of over 130 shelters in northern Mexico from over 25,000 individuals on May 19 to slightly above 20,000 as of Monday.

What occurred?

A Rise in Asylum App Usage: According to shelter operators in Tijuana, there has been a noticeable increase in migrants utilizing the CBP One App, a mobile application that allows them to schedule asylum appointments at U.S. ports of entry. Although the app has experienced technical issues and usability challenges, recent enhancements have enabled over 1,000 migrants per day to use it. They are now provided with a 23-hour window to book appointments and an additional 23 hours to confirm. These findings stem from a recent study conducted by the University of Texas at Austin’s Strauss Center, which examined asylum procedures along the U.S.-Mexico border. Previously, migrants were swiftly locked out of the system once it reached its daily capacity, leading to frustration and, in one instance, a surge at the El Paso, Texas port of entry. As more migrants apply for asylum through legal means, fewer individuals are attempting to cross the border illegally.

“Consequences”: Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials also attribute the decline in illegal border crossings to the presence of “consequences.” Under Title 42, migrants were able to make repeated attempts to cross the U.S.-Mexico border without facing any repercussions if they were turned back. However, with the termination of Title 42, migrants caught unlawfully entering the United States are now charged with a felony if they are deported and subsequently apprehended while attempting to re-enter within five years. This reflects the reinstatement of an older regulation known as Title 8. A CBP official mentioned that news of increased penalties and deportations, referred to as the “consequences,” has reached migrants who are contemplating crossing the border.

migrant refugees

Additional factors that may contribute to the decreased numbers, but are of a more temporary nature, as reported by U.S. and foreign officials who monitor global migration patterns:

Weather Impact: According to a Colombian official, the current rainy season has deterred fewer migrants from crossing the perilous Darien Gap, which lies between Colombia and Panama. The inclement weather has made the journey even more challenging, with muddy and treacherous conditions. The official anticipates that as weather conditions improve, particularly for migrants from Venezuela, the number of crossings is likely to increase.

New Asylum Restrictions: A representative from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) also attributes the decline in numbers to the implementation of the asylum ineligibility policy following the expiration of Title 42. Under this policy, migrants are considered ineligible to apply for asylum at the U.S. border if they did not first seek asylum in countries they traveled through on their way to the United States, unless they were denied by those countries or can demonstrate they meet specific criteria, such as being potential victims of torture upon deportation.

However, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a request with a federal judge in the Northern District of California to block the asylum ineligibility policy. The first hearing for this case is scheduled for July 19. The DHS official acknowledged that if the judge grants the request and prevents the Biden administration from denying asylum to these migrants, the administration may witness an increase in attempts to illegally cross the border in order to claim asylum, rather than utilizing the CBP One App.

Meanwhile, migrant group chats on WhatsApp, aimed at facilitating their journey to the U.S., remain active. These chat groups provide advice, advertisements, and firsthand accounts regarding the post-Title 42 environment.

In one of the CBP One WhatsApp groups, a member asked for assistance in acquiring a working VPN (Virtual Private Network) that would allow them to apply for asylum from their home country. The person shared a screenshot of an error message from the app, indicating that they must be physically present in Mexico to request an appointment.

Additionally, in another group chat, smugglers continue to promote their services through videos and images showcasing their supposed “success” in helping migrants navigate around or through the Darien Gap using boats.

One user shared a video featuring a guide named “Manuelito,” assuring migrants of a safe journey with zero danger or the need to cross the jungle. They claimed to offer the safest route and boasted about their competitive prices. The video depicted a group of migrants cheerfully donning life jackets as they boarded boats, reinforcing the smuggler’s claims.

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