Record numbers of migrants are being arrested crossing the Mexico-U.S. border with Mexico, a surge of single men and families from Latin America seeking asylum or work, says U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Border Patrol agents have made 1.82 million arrests since last October. That beats the record set last fiscal year, 1.66 million, reports the Wall Street Journal. With two months left in the fiscal year, full-year arrests are expected to break the two million mark for the first time. “We’re apprehending people left and right,” said Border Patrol agent Jesus Vasalvilbaso in Nogales, Az. The surge comes amid rising tension between the Biden administration and Republican-led states, which have filed lawsuits blocking federal efforts to lift Trump-era immigration programs. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has made a crackdown on illegal migration the key to his campaign for a third term, busing thousands of asylum seekers to Washington, D.C., and New York City.
The pandemic hit Latin America’s economies harder than any region in the world, throwing millions out of work and creating a far greater supply of low-wage labor looking for jobs. The U.S. economy rebounded quickly, creating strong demand for the kinds of low-paying jobs that migrants normally take. Another factor behind the surge is a U.S. policy meant to deter migration but which appears to have backfired. The Trump administration invoked a 1940s health law called Title 42 that allowed it to expel any migrants at the border on grounds they might bring COVID-19 into the U.S. The Biden administration attempted to end the policy, but it was blocked by a federal court. Initially, Trump officials thought Title 42 would suppress border crossings because it denies migrants a chance to ask for asylum. Under the law, there is no penalty for repeated crossings—migrants are simply apprehended and sent back across the border. The Border Patrol estimates about one in four migrants have tried to enter the U.S. more than once over the past year because they won’t face prison for repeated entry, as they would under normal U.S. immigration law.