Feb 18, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Migration to U.S.-Mexico border falls to lowest levels since 2021 surge

Migrants from Central America walk exhausted along a country road as they continue the march towards the US border

Migrants from Central America walk exhausted along a country road as they continue the march towards the US border. Photo: Yahir Ceballos/picture alliance via Getty Images

The number of encounters between border officials and migrants attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border fell last month to the lowest levels since last February when the surge began.

By the numbers: While it was the second-lowest monthly number on Biden's watch, the 154,000 migrant encounters last month was still abnormally high for the time of year. There were more border patrol arrests than any other January in over two decades, according to government data.

  • Fewer migrants from the Northern Triangle — Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador — attempted to cross the border last month, with the number falling below that of January 2019.
  • There were also fewer migrants traveling from "other" further away nations — a relatively new, major demographic.
  • Encounters with Mexican nationals rose slightly over December's numbers, although the vast majority of them were quickly expelled back to Mexico.

The big picture: It's unclear yet whether the decline in border numbers will last.

  • The government has struggled to respond to massive numbers of people arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border over the past year. It has created both logistical and political nightmares for the president and his administration.
  • Early on, the government struggled to quickly move minors out of unsuitable border patrol facilities and was forced to quickly built temporary shelters along the border.
  • Recently, there have been unprecedented numbers of migrants traveling from further away nations in South America and elsewhere.
  • Administration officials have attempted to both distance themselves from the harsh immigration rhetoric of the former administration, while also warding off "open border" attacks from the right.

What to watch: The administration has continued to use a Trump-era policy called Title 42, despite outrage from Democrats and immigration advocates as well as a lawsuit threatening the use of the policy.

  • Title 42 cites the pandemic as reason for quickly turning back migrants who illegally cross the border without a chance for asylum.
  • The policy was used more than 78,000 times last month — also the lowest number since last February.
  • Mexicans were kicked back to Mexico 88% of the time under Title 42 last month. Migrants from Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador were expelled 71% of the time, as opposed to just 5% of migrants from elsewhere.
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