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U.S. arrests along Mexico border top 2 million a year for first time

Venezuelan migrants cross the Rio Bravo to the United States from Mexico. (Luis Torres/European Pressphoto Agency/Shutterstock)
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U.S. authorities made more than 2 million immigration arrests along the southern border during the past 11 months, marking the first time annual enforcement statistics have exceeded that threshold, according to figures provided by senior Biden administration officials Monday.

In August, U.S. Customs and Border Protection detained 203,598 migrants crossing from Mexico, the latest figures show, putting authorities on pace to tally more than 2.3 million arrests during the government’s 2022 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. The total, which includes some people apprehended more than once, far exceeds last year’s record of more than 1.7 million arrests.

The historic migration wave this year has been driven by soaring numbers of border-crossers from outside Mexico and Central America, the two largest traditional sources of illegal entries. Migrants from Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba accounted for more than one-third of those taken into custody along the southern border last month, according to Customs and Border Protection, a 175 percent increase over August 2021.

Biden administration officials blamed the governments of those countries, whose strained relations with Washington severely limit the ability of authorities to send them deportees. Many of the migrants apply for humanitarian protection in the United States and tend to have strong asylum claims.

“Failing communist regimes in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba are driving a new wave of migration across the Western Hemisphere, including the recent increase in encounters at the southwest U.S. border,” Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Chris Magnus, said in a statement. “Those fleeing repressive regimes pose significant challenges for processing and removal,” he said, using the official term for deportations.

Biden administration officials continue to insist they are building a “safe, orderly and humane” immigration system while blaming the Trump administration for “dismantling” channels for legal migration.

Critics say Biden administration officials have fallen far short of meeting their refugee admission goals, and the number of migrants who have died this year attempting to cross into the United States is at an all-time high. Scores have drowned in the Rio Grande in recent months, and 53 were killed in June when smugglers in Texas packed migrants into a sweltering tractor trailer with a failing cooling system.

Martha’s Vineyard flights leave migrant advocates scrambling

Republican lawmakers blame the record number of crossings on President Biden’s reversal of Trump administration border policies. Over the past several months, the Republican governors of Texas and Arizona have sent more than 10,000 migrants on buses to Washington, New York and other northern destinations to put pressure on Democrats by straining relief services in their jurisdictions.

The Post's Maria Sacchetti explains why the governors of Texas and Florida sent migrants to Martha's Vineyard in September. (Video: Joshua Carroll/The Washington Post)

Last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) shipped a planeload of Venezuelans to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, transporting them to a wealthy island enclave with limited services for migrants.

Biden administration officials also say the high border numbers are distorted by repeat crossing attempts by migrants who have been previously arrested. Last month, 22 percent of those taken into custody had a prior arrest in the previous 12 months, the latest figures show.

One factor Biden administration officials blame for the repeat crossings is the Title 42 emergency public health policy, implemented at the start of the pandemic, that allows U.S. agents to rapidly “expel” some migrants back to Mexico. The Biden administration’s attempt to phase out Title 42 was blocked in federal court last spring.

The latest figures show the percentage of border-crossers expelled under Title 42 has been falling and remains far lower under Biden than President Donald Trump. About 36 percent of the 203,598 migrant “encounters” resulted in an expulsion last month, down from 83 percent when Biden took office.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), said Monday that the strain on Democratic-run cities will force the administration to see the border surge as a crisis. “Maybe, just maybe, they’ll see that what’s happening along our border every day is dangerous, unsustainable, and a problem that we need to work on together to address,” he said.

Biden officials defending the administration’s border record pointed to a decline in the number of Mexican and Central American migrants arrested over the past three months as a sign their enforcement policies are having some success, including efforts to target smuggling organizations in Latin America.

Maria Sacchetti contributed to this report.