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Stricter U.S. Migration Controls Keep Illegal Border Crossings at 2-Year Low — For Now

Unlawful crossings along the U.S. southern border in February remained at a two-year low for the second consecutive month, illustrating the dent that stricter policies enacted by President Biden this year have made on the unprecedented migration flows recorded since he took office.

U.S. Border Patrol recorded roughly 130,000 apprehensions of migrants who crossed the southern border illegally in February, virtually the same level as in January, when detected unlawful entries plummeted by 40% from a near-record in December, according to internal federal data obtained by CBS News.

For the first time since Mr. Biden took office, Border Patrol agents did not record a spike in migrant apprehensions in the month of February, when migration flows to the U.S. southern border have typically increased before peaking in the spring.

While migrant apprehensions continue to be at historically high levels and are projected to increase sharply in May, the two-year low is a dramatic change from the situation along the U.S.-Mexico border just two months ago, when a massive spike in unlawful migration strained federal and local resources.

“When new policies are announced, there is typically a little bit of a pause when people try to understand what the policies might mean for them,” said Doris Meissner, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute who oversaw the now-defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service in the 1990s. “But this is more than a temporary pause.”

As part of his recent migration crackdown, Mr. Biden expanded the scope of a pandemic-related border restriction known as Title 42, making migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela eligible to be expelled to Mexico if they enter the U.S. illegally. His administration also plans to replace Title 42, which is set to lapse on May 11, with a sweeping asylum restriction that would allow the government to more quickly deport migrants who fail to seek refuge in other countries on their way to the U.S.

Those stricter rules have been paired with the expansion of a program that allows up to 30,000 migrants with American sponsors to fly to the U.S. legally each month, as well as a mobile app that gives hundreds of asylum-seekers the chance to request entry along official border ports of entry on a daily basis.

In December, Border Patrol recorded 222,000 migrant arrivals, a near-record high. The influx of illegal crossings by migrants from Nicaragua and Cuba posed an unprecedented test for the Texas border city of El Paso, leaving hundreds of migrants sleeping on the city’s streets and forcing local officials to convert hotels, a convention center and a middle school into emergency shelters.

But since Mr. Biden unveiled his new migration strategy in January, El Paso has closed the makeshift shelters, and migrants are no longer stranded outside a local church and the city’s Greyhound bus station. Incidents of migrants crossing El Paso’s busy highways have also largely stopped, city officials said.

“It’s going to incentivize legal migration. So as long as they follow the process, they can come in and it’s the right way to do it,” Mario D’Agostino, the deputy city manager of El Paso, told CBS News, referring to the new federal strategy. “That’s what we’re seeing right now. That’s why we’re seeing low numbers.”

El Paso’s nongovernmental shelters, run by faith groups and nonprofits, are also no longer severely overcrowded. {snip}

In Yuma, Arizona, a small border city that has seen the fourth-highest migrant traffic nationwide over the past year, local officials have also reported a sharp drop in migrant arrivals. Douglas Nicholls, Yuma’s mayor, said daily arrivals there have dropped to roughly 400, or a third of the unlawful crossings in December.


But Nicholls expressed concern that migration could rise again once Title 42 lifts, saying the federal government should be dispatching more resources and personnel to help border communities. {snip}