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Border arrests ticked up 5 percent in November, first increase since summer

U.S. Border Patrol agents receive immigrants after they walked through a gap in the wall from Mexico on Dec. 11, in Yuma, Ariz. They had made the journey from Brazil and Chile. (John Moore/Getty Images)
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Apprehensions at the southwest U.S. border rose last month for the first time since July, with across-the-board increases in the detention of migrant families, single adults and minors traveling without their parents, according to preliminary U.S. Customs and Border Protection data obtained by The Washington Post.

CBP made more than 173,600 arrests at the U.S.-Mexico border in November, a more than 5 percent increase from the month before and the largest influx for that month in years, according to the unpublished numbers. The increase is driven by sharp increases in arrivals from Venezuela, which smashed the record set in October, as well as steady arrivals from Cuba, parts of Central America and Mexico.

Apprehensions remain well below the 213,000 taken into custody in July, and some people were probably arrested more than once as they attempted to cross.

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Approximately half of those arrested were expelled to their native countries or to Mexico under a pandemic public health order that President Biden has held over from the Trump administration. But outcomes varied sharply by group. Almost all unaccompanied minors and most family members apprehended were allowed into the United States; it remains unclear how many were then released from custody to pursue their immigration cases.

Two-thirds of the 114,100 adults traveling solo were expelled under the order, issued under Title 42 of the public health code, the data shows. CBP, which generally does not comment on unpublished data, did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

The latest numbers show the Biden administration is still facing significant political and humanitarian challenges at the southwest border, after apprehending a record 1.7 million migrants in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.

Thousands of migrants from Latin America and the Caribbean are attempting to enter the United States to seek asylum or work, and the White House is navigating public criticism over its approach to the border. Biden has said he wants to build a more humane immigration system, but he also has said he does not want “2 million people” massing at the border.

Texas and other GOP-led states have filed lawsuits demanding that the Biden administration arrest and expel migrants. They won a major victory this year when a federal judge ordered the Department of Homeland Security to restart the “Migrant Protection Protocols” program, which requires asylum seekers to await their asylum hearings in Mexico.

A panel of three Republican-appointed judges in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision Monday, and the program resumed this month.

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The American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups say migrants should be allowed to seek asylum once they step foot onto U.S. soil. U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan in September ordered the administration to stop expelling families, but a D.C. appeals court stayed his ruling and is set to hear arguments in January.

Sullivan issued a similar order in 2020 for unaccompanied minors and was reversed, but the Biden administration has nevertheless declined to expel children traveling without a parent.

While November arrests were lower than in the summer months, they were much higher than is usual for this time of year, and more than double the 72,000 taken into custody in November 2020.

The number of Venezuelan migrants apprehended jumped to more than 20,000, a 54 percent increase from the month before. The Biden administration has expelled few Venezuelan migrants, in part because tense relations between the U.S. government and the Maduro regime limit the number of removal flights to that country.

But officials have expelled thousands of Haitians, and the number attempting to enter the country appears to have dropped dramatically. Approximately 1,000 Haitian nationals were apprehended at the border in November, following a steady and dramatic decline from the peak of 17,638 in September, when crowds waded across the Rio Grande into the small city of Del Rio, Tex.

The expulsions pose a conflict for the Biden administration, which has said that extreme conditions and unrest in Haiti make it too dangerous to deport most undocumented Haitian immigrants established and living in the United States. Haiti is still reeling from a punishing earthquake, the assassination of the president and the proliferation of armed gangs kidnapping people for ransom.

Border crossings by Haitian migrants plunged in October, CBP data show

Analysts say many Haitian migrants are coming directly from Brazil or Chile and are fleeing racism and worsening economic conditions in those countries. Many have not lived in Hait for years.

Mexico also has ramped up immigration enforcement. But it does not have a visa requirement for Venezuelans, so many have been buying airplane tickets to Mexican border cities such as Tijuana and Mexicali and then walking across the border into the Yuma, Ariz., region.

Monthly apprehensions of Ecuadorans, who had a similar visa exemption, rose sharply during the first part of this year, from 2,700 in November 2020 to more than 17,600 in August. But Mexico terminated the exemption in August, and the numbers have steadily declined. About 550 Ecuadorans were arrested at the border last month.

Mexican nationals remained the largest group apprehended in the November data, with more than 63,000 taken into custody. Approximately 20,000 people from Honduras and Guatemala were also apprehended.

Arrests of Cubans increased slightly, from 5,800 in October to more than 6,500 last month, while the apprehension of migrants from Nicaragua rose from 9,200 in October to more than 13,500 in November.