WASHINGTON – The number of migrants taken into custody along the U.S.-Mexico border declined for an eighth straight month in January, but unauthorized crossings by Mexican nationals are on the rise, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials.
Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan said Tuesday that U.S. officials apprehended or deemed “inadmissible” 36,679 migrants in January, a drop of 10% from December. But he said the number of Mexican adults taken into custody has climbed 32% from this time last year, a shift he attributed to smugglers “scrambling to come up with new tactics” as overall migration numbers have fallen.
“While this number represents the eighth straight month of declines, smuggling organizations are changing their tactics,” Morgan said. “They’re looking to other vulnerable groups.”
Morgan said that at this time last year, approximately 61% of the migrants U.S. officials encountered were from the northern triangle countries – Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. “Now, eight months later, that same percent, about 61%, are actually Mexican nationals,” Morgan said.
Morgan attributed the overall decline to the Trump administration’s immigration policies, which he said have enabled authorities to quickly deport “95%”of the migrants encountered along the U.S.-Mexico border, including tens of thousands of Central American asylum-seekers who have been sent to Mexican border towns to await their U.S. court hearings.
“If we encounter you, if you’re illegally in this country, you will not be allowed in the United States,” he said. “You will be promptly removed and returned.”
Morgan defended the policies in the face of a report released Tuesday by Doctors Without Borders, which found that asylum-seekers who have to wait in Mexico for their U.S. court hearings were facing high levels of violence. The international aid organization reported that 34 of the 44 asylum-seekers it interviewed in the border city of Nuevo Laredo had recently been kidnapped.
Morgan said the information he received from U.S. and Mexican authorities did not align with Doctors Without Borders’ findings. He said crime has not been as severe as the group claimed.
Though migration has been declining, Morgan predicted that another influx of migrants is possible, owing to “seasonal” trends. Last May saw a historic number of children and families apprehended along the border, overwhelming border authorities and U.S. immigration infrastructure.
The White House on Monday submitted its 2021 budget request to Congress, which included $4 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services to hold unaccompanied migrant children – roughly double what it requested last year.
In a rare admission of CBP misconduct – on a different border – Morgan on Tuesday acknowledged that border agents in Washington state last month behaved in a way “that was not in line with our directions” when they detained dozens of U.S. citizens and U.S. green-card holders of Iranian heritage for hours at the Canadian border.
The Department of Homeland Security had developed an “enhanced” security posture in response to heightened tensions with Iran, but CBP officials claimed at the time that they were not targeting people because of their national origin.
A newspaper in Blaine, Washington, later published what it said was a leaked memo from CBP’s Seattle office, which explicitly instructed border agents to target anyone with Iranian, Lebanese or Palestinian connections for enhanced scrutiny.
“I would say in that one instance, leadership just got a little overzealous, and we corrected that right away,” Morgan said Tuesday.