WASHINGTON — For the first time, the number of arrests of undocumented immigrants along the southwestern border exceeded two million in one year, according to newly released government data, continuing a historic pace of undocumented immigrants coming to the country.
The number of arrests at the border increased slightly from July to August, with a total of more than 2.1 million for the first 11 months of the 2022 fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30.
In an unusual step, Biden administration officials gave some reporters a background briefing on Monday before Customs and Border Protection’s routine monthly release of data. Officials noted that the number of removals over the past year — more than 1.3 million — was more than any previous year.
The administration in recent months has tried to steer clear of immigration issues as the midterm elections approach and Republicans campaign on the message that the border is unsecured. Last week, two Republican governors paid for dozens of immigrants who were released from government custody to be transported to Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., an escalation of efforts to show Democratic areas inside the country what it is like on the southwestern border.
The immigrants sent to those locations crossed the southwestern border without documentation and underwent security screenings by border officials before they were released into the country temporarily to face removal proceedings. They are part of a global movement of displaced people who are fleeing their home countries. In June, the United Nations said that one in 78 people across the world were considered displaced. Venezuelans are estimated to be the second-largest group of displaced people around the world. (Syrians are the largest.)
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In August, the number of immigrants from Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela caught crossing the southwestern border was nearly the same as the number of immigrants from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, marking a stark shift in the nationalities of people coming to the United States compared with previous years. The number of undocumented immigrants from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras is down 43 percent from August 2021; the number of Cubans, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans is up 175 percent.
“Failing Communist regimes in Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba are driving a new wave of migration across the Western Hemisphere, including the recent increase in encounters at the southwest U.S. border,” the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, Chris Magnus, said in a statement on Monday.
Because the United States lacks diplomatic relations with those three countries, officials cannot repatriate the migrants as they do with people from other countries.
Many of the immigrants who have been crossing the southwestern border are seeking asylum, a legal right that was significantly restricted through several policies during the Trump administration when there was also a spike in migration. One of those policies is the use of a public health rule, known as Title 42, which the Biden administration tried to end in late May. Louisiana and other predominantly Republican states sued to stop the administration from lifting the order.
The journey to the United States is grueling, dangerous and expensive, with migrants often paying smugglers to get across. The Biden administration has deployed more than 23,000 law enforcement agents and officers to Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras in an effort to counter the smuggling operations. One of the administration officials speaking on background on Monday said officials believed this had stopped 57,000 immigrants a month from getting to the southwestern border. Mr. Biden announced the countersmuggling campaign in June.