Apr 6, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Share of global migrants heading to U.S. through Latin America soars

Migrants apprehended at the southern U.S. border, by citizenship
Data: U.S. Customs and Border Protection; Chart: Erin Davis/Axios Visuals

Migrants are increasingly making treacherous journeys from faraway nations to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border, including from China, India and Russia.

Why it matters: This has complicated an already chaotic situation at the border, with authorities now contending with new language barriers and countries that do not cooperate with U.S. deportation efforts.

  • The shift in demographics at the southern border is a sign of how desperate many people are to reach the United States.

Details: Many people from outside the western hemisphere often fly to South American countries with lax visa requirements, then slowly make their way north, risking kidnappings, extortion, robbery and death.

  • For example, thousands of Chinese migrants have recently made the perilous journey through the Darién Gap, a thick jungle infamous for its poisonous snakes, armed guerillas and drug traffickers.
  • People who leave countries such as Russia, China, Peru or Ecuador are not likely to be removed by U.S. authorities the way many Mexicans and Central Americans are, said Ariel Soto Ruiz, an analyst with the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.
  • That's because Mexico has not accepted all nationalities under Title 42, and some home countries are less willing to cooperate with U.S. deportations.
  • "Why wait for a visa when you can show up to the border?"

By the numbers: As recently as fiscal year 2019, 92% of all Border Patrol apprehensions were of migrants from Mexico or from what's often referred to as the Northern Triangle — Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

  • That fell to just 57% for fiscal year 2022 and 44% in the first five months of the current fiscal year, which started Oct. 1.
  • People from Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and India made up a large share of those who tried to cross the border in February, and Chinese nationals are also coming in larger numbers, data shows.

What they're saying: Andrea Rudnik, the volunteer coordinator for Team Brownsville, an organization that provides aid to recently arrived migrants in Texas, said her organization has struggled to meet the needs of many Chinese nationals because of the language barrier.

  • Oftentimes, they make do with Google Translate, Rudnik added.

This story is part of a series in Axios Latino focused on immigration to the United States.

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