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More South Americans Arriving at US-Mexico Border

Adimar de Clavarlho Silha, his wife Maria Aparecida Cavarlho Silha and their daughter, a Brazilian family sent to a shelter in Ciudad Juarez while waiting for a court hearing in the U.S. regarding their asylum request, are pictured on Jan. 30, 2020.

A growing number of South American migrants and nationals from distant countries such as Romania have been arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, according to the latest U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data.

The U.S. government released an online tool Wednesday that breaks down border encounters by nationality, family grouping and location along the United States' vast border, giving a more detailed picture of migrant arrivals beyond the two largest cohorts: Mexicans and Central Americans.

In May, the most recent month for which data was compiled, 11,691 Ecuadorians, 7,484 Venezuelans and 7,372 Brazilians were encountered at the southern border, up from 3,440, 913 and 912, respectively, in February.

A migrant asylum seeker from Haiti waits at a makeshift camp of migrants at the border port of entry leading to the United States, March 17, 2021, in Tijuana, Mexico.
A migrant asylum seeker from Haiti waits at a makeshift camp of migrants at the border port of entry leading to the United States, March 17, 2021, in Tijuana, Mexico.

During the same time frame, the number of Haitians encountered tripled to 2,807, while Romanians increased more than fivefold, to 1,203. Smaller but statistically significant increases have also been recorded in recent months among people from Turkey, Russia and India.

CBP's numbers for June are expected to be issued in the coming days.

Jessica Bolter, an associate policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, said the influx of migrants from nations other than Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador has been building up over the years.

"This isn't something that just arose out of the blue. For the past decade or so we have seen a gradual increase in diverse nationalities coming to the border, but it's really kind of accelerating this year," Bolter told VOA.

Bolter said increases are likely to continue but may level off "once more countries start to kind of enter the recovery phases from the (COVID-19) pandemic."

Bolter noted that since October 1 of last year, the beginning of the 2021 fiscal year, U.S. authorities encountered more than 137,000 non-Mexican and non-Northern Triangle migrants crossing illegally between U.S. ports of entry.

"The previous highest number of these migrants that we had seen was back in fiscal year 2019 — and that year it was only 77,000 encounters," Bolter said.

The number of Venezuelans encountered at the border in May was the highest monthly total in the 14 years for which records have been kept.

Recent reports note that many Venezuelans recently arriving at the U.S. border had been living for years in other South American countries only to uproot themselves again amid dire economic circumstances heightened by the pandemic. Over the past decade, millions of Venezuelans have fled rampant crime and a moribund economy in their native country.

Most recent CBP enforcement data show that for all nationalities combined, 180,034 migrants were apprehended along the U.S.-Mexico border in May. Though it is the highest monthly total in at least 20 years, the number includes some migrants' repeated attempts to cross into the United States.

Single adults continue to account for most of these encounters.

More than 112,000 foreign nationals were removed in May under Title 42, a guideline put in place during the former Trump administration, which gives CBP authority to expel migrants who enter the country without authorization during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Biden administration has modified the guideline to allow unaccompanied minors and some families with small children to pursue asylum claims in the United States.