An expected spike in illegal crossings along the U.S.-Mexico border after the termination of the Title 42 pandemic-era migration control policy earlier this week did not materialize in the immediate aftermath of the policy change, according to government data obtained by CBS News.
On Friday, the first day since March 2020 in which the U.S. could no longer cite Title 42 to expel migrants, Border Patrol agents apprehended roughly 6,300 migrants, a sharp drop from record levels of illegal entries reported days earlier, a senior U.S. official told CBS News, requesting anonymity to provide unpublished figures.
Earlier in the week, in the lead-up to Title 42’s expiration at 11:59 p.m. EDT Thursday, Border Patrol apprehensions soared to all-time highs. In three days this week, Border Patrol recorded more than 10,000 daily migrant apprehensions.
In an interview with CBS News, Gloria Chavez, the top Border Patrol official in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, said Saturday had been a “quiet day.” She noted that her sector recorded 1,900 migrant apprehensions on Friday, after recently averaging 2,700 daily migrant arrivals.
Still, Chavez noted that holding facilities in the Rio Grande Valley had roughly 5,000 migrants as of Saturday, above the 4,600-person capacity.
“We’re absolutely not out of the woods yet,” Chavez said. “We’re gonna continue to work really hard and get these agents the resources that they need.”
A public health authority first invoked by the Trump administration at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Title 42 allowed U.S. border officials to expel migrants 2.7 million times to their home country or Mexico without hearing their asylum claims. Its end was triggered by the expiration of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
The unexpected lower number of illegal crossings right after Title 42’s termination could be a sign that the recent spike in migration peaked before the policy’s end. However, 6,300 daily apprehensions is still a historically high level, and another sharp increase in migrant crossings could still occur in the future.
In a federal court filing on Friday, Matthew Hudak, Border Patrol deputy chief, said his agency was still preparing for daily migrant arrivals to increase to between 12,000 and 14,000. The agency also continues to face major operational challenges, with more than 20,000 migrants in its custody, and several facilities over-capacity.
Concerns about even higher numbers of migrants in Border Patrol custody, and more overcrowding, have intensified after a federal judge in Florida earlier in the week blocked a policy that allowed the agency to quickly release some low-risk migrants to reduce the number of individuals in overcrowded facilities.
The Biden administration urged U.S. District Judge Kent Wetherell to pause his ruling, saying it would lead to “dangerous overcrowding” and could force Border Patrol to decline to arrest some migrants to mitigate those conditions. But in an order Saturday, Wetherell declined to suspend his ruling, calling the government’s request “borderline frivolous.”
The “‘chaos’ that the President recently acknowledged has been going on at the Southwest Border ‘for a number of years’ is largely a problem of Defendants’ own making because they effectively incentivized the ‘irregular migration’ that has been ongoing since early 2021 through the adoption and implementation of immigration policies that prioritized ‘alternatives to detention’ over actual detention,” Wetherell wrote in his order.
The Biden administration is betting that it will be able to reduce the historically high levels of migration recorded over the past two years through a strategy that pairs deterrence measures, including more deportations and a restriction on asylum, with increased legal migration channels.
A centerpiece of the strategy is a rule implemented Friday that disqualifies migrants who enter the U.S. without permission if they did not first seek refuge in a third country en route to American soil. Those subjected to the regulation could face deportation to Mexico or their home country, as well as a five-year ban on re-entering the U.S.
At the same time, the administration is expanding programs for migrants to come to the U.S. legally, including through a mobile app for asylum-seekers in Mexico and a program for migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela who have American sponsors.
That strategy, however, is now facing legal challenges from multiple directions. Republican-led states are asking a federal judge in Texas to block the sponsorship program for Cuban, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans, while migrant advocates recently asked a federal judge in California to declare the new asylum restriction illegal.
During a briefing with reporters on Friday, Blas Nuñez-Neto, the top Department of Homeland Security official on immigration and border policy, said the administration was “concerned about the impact litigation will have on our ability to execute this plan.”
“The lawsuits we are facing, frankly from both sides of the aisle, clearly demonstrate just how fundamentally broken our immigration system is,” Nuñez-Neto said, noting that the only “lasting solution” to address migration to the U.S. southern border could come from Congress.
— Nicole Sganga contributed to this report.