Jul 12, 2022 - Politics & Policy

What the growing number of Mexican migrant encounters at the border tells us

Number of Customs and Border Protection encounters with Mexican migrants at the Southwest border
Data: Customs and Border Protection; Chart: Erin Davis/Axios Visuals

The deaths of at least 22 Mexican migrants smuggled in a hot truck last month came as data shows an increase in encounters of U.S. authorities with people from that country.

The big picture: As a whole, migrant encounters — which include Border Patrol apprehensions and those who are turned away at ports of entry — have increased sharply over the last few years. The percentage of Mexican encounters, though small, appears to be growing since 2019.

  • The spike could be because most Mexicans who attempt to cross the border are immediately turned back without legal consequence under Title 42, which results in them making several attempts, driving up the number of encounters.
  • But violence in states such as Zacatecas, Michoacán, and Guerrero — where there are longstanding smuggling networks — along with inflation and a poor economic COVID-19 recovery could also be contributing said Ariel G. Ruiz Soto, a policy analyst at the nonpartisan research group Migration Policy Institute.

By the numbers: Authorities reported nearly 561,000 encounters with Mexicans between October and the end of May, accounting for about 36% of all migrants. Most are adults who traveled without children.

  • Mexicans were 38% of migrants in fiscal 2021 (from October through September).
  • In fiscal year 2019, there were just over 237,000 Mexican encounters, or 24% of all migrants, according to Customs and Border Protection data.

What they’re saying: Ruiz Soto says he’s not surprised by what he described as a measured increase in Mexicans coming the U.S., but added that the next four months will show a clearer picture of where the trend is heading.

  • Whatever happens with Title 42, which the Biden administration tried to end before a federal judge temporarily halted its plans, could impact the numbers.
  • So will economic recovery.
  • “Whatever economic stability Mexico was gaining, relatively speaking of course, before the pandemic, started to erode after the pandemic struck,” Ruiz Soto said.

The Department of Homeland Security declined to comment, but a spokesperson pointed to the high recidivism rates — 44% so far this fiscal year and 47% last year — for people expelled through Title 42 to illustrate that the number of Mexican encounters may not be as high as the numbers show.

What to watch: Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is expected to discuss migration and other issues with President Biden today at the White House.

  • López Obrador is asking for 300,000 new temporary worker visas, half for Mexicans and half for Central Americans, arguing those will disrupt illegal crossing attempts.

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