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US-Mexico Border Apprehensions Continue to Drop

FILE - Mexican National Guard troops patrolling the country's northern border are seen from Sunland Park, New Mexico, Jan. 31, 2020.

The Trump administration's efforts to stem the flow of migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border have been "incredibly successful," U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said this week.

Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan said Tuesday the number of migrants taken into custody declined in January for the eighth consecutive month.

U.S. authorities recorded 36,679 migration enforcement actions in January, including 29,200 apprehensions and 7,479 inadmissibility decisions.

Crossings by Mexican nationals, however, are on the rise.

"In fact, single adults from Mexico have increased 32% from this time last year," Morgan said, adding that agents are also encountering migrants from outside North America. "The number of CBP encounters, for example, (with) Brazilian nationals recently hit an all-time high of nearly 20,000 in fiscal year 2019."

January's numbers show a 10 percent decline from December. Border officials attributed the eight-month drop to the Trump administration's efforts to deter illegal border crossings.

Migration Policy Institute analyst Jessica Bolter did not dispute the administration's reasoning.

"As CBP said, January does represent the eighth straight month that apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border have decreased, and it is certainly not typical to have that long of a stretch of continuously decreasing numbers," Bolter said. "I think it is definitely fair to say that DHS's deterrent policies ... along with increased Mexican enforcement, have been successful in reducing the migration flow to the United States from its high point in May 2019."

There have been other periods of even lower apprehensions in the last decade, meaning the January figures are not record lows.

Bolter added that while migration flows to the United States can be curtailed, they will not cease.

Migrant Protection Protocols

The reduction in border enforcement actions coincides with 55,000 asylum-seekers, including families, being sent back to Mexico from January through October 2019 to await U.S. immigration court dates under the Migrant Protection Protocols program, also known as Remain in Mexico.

FILE - Acting Customs and Border Protection director Mark Morgan speaks with reporters in the briefing room at the White House, Nov. 14, 2019.
FILE - Acting Customs and Border Protection director Mark Morgan speaks with reporters in the briefing room at the White House, Nov. 14, 2019.

"I want to make clear that the MPP has been a very successful program," Morgan said. "It's been a successful program on multiple fronts. One, it really showed and facilitated the ability of Mexico and the United States to work together."

Critics say MPP deters people with legitimate asylum claims from seeking protections in the United States.

Human Rights First says migrants have faced illnesses and poor conditions in makeshift camps due to MPP. They note migrants have been kidnapped, tortured, and sexually assaulted by cartels that operate along the U.S.-Mexico border.

"Being on the ground in Matamoros, it was haunting to see the complacency and the normalization of violence and rampant insecurity particularly due to zero accountability or ownership by any security or government agencies," Pam Campos-Palma, adviser to Human Rights First, said in a statement.

U.S. officials maintain that expanding the MPP policy sends a clear message to migrants and migrant caravans traveling thousands of kilometers to reach the United States.

"Our message is clear, don't do it," Morgan said. "Don't risk your lives. Don't risk the lives of your family because the game has changed. Yeah, eight months ago, your chance of being allowed in the United States was pretty high. … You're not going to be allowed in the United States while you're waiting for your immigration proceedings."

Border security agreements

U.S. policy also bans migrants from claiming asylum unless they were denied protection in a country through which they passed en route to the United States. The Trump administration is now sending asylum-seekers to Central American nations as part of a border security agreements with Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

The Associated Press recently tallied 13,000 asylum-seekers at border crossing points awaiting permission to enter the United States.