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Border apprehensions increased last month after 8 months of decline

The number of border apprehensions went up slightly last month, breaking an 8 months streak of declining numbers after a peak last May:

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials apprehended or turned away more than 37,000 migrants last month, a slight increase from January’s 36,600 enforcement actions, which also include people who are deemed “inadmissible” and barred from entering the U.S. The numbers of families apprehended in February continued the downward trend of recent months, but there was a slight uptick in arrests of single adults and unaccompanied migrant minors.

The apprehensions last month, however, pale in comparison to figures from February of last year, when U.S. officials apprehended more than 76,000 migrants at the beginning of an unprecedented surge of Central American families making their way to the U.S southern border to seek asylum.

Last Friday the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling that the Trump administration would have to stop the “remain in Mexico” policy which sends migrants seeking asylum back to Mexico while awaiting their appointment with an immigration judge. However, yesterday the court reversed itself and allowed the rule to remain in place, at least temporarily:

While insisting that a policy that has forced 60,000 asylum seekers to wait in Mexico violates United States law, a federal appeals court on Wednesday granted the Trump administration’s request to keep the “Remain in Mexico” restrictions in effect until March 11 for review by the Supreme Court…

If the Supreme Court does not grant the government’s request to take up its appeal of the Ninth Circuit’s injunction, the appeals court’s original decision will take effect on March 12, although only in the border states within its jurisdiction, California and Arizona.

If the high court agrees to hear the case and grant another emergency stay, the policy, which has been in effect since January 2019, could remain in place for the foreseeable future.

“It is very likely that the Supreme Court will grant the administration’s request to halt the Ninth Circuit’s original decision to suspend the policy,” said Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration professor at Cornell Law School.

So we’ve got a week left before the policy ends in California and Arizona unless the Supreme Court prevents that from happening. If SCOTUS doesn’t stop it, the big question is what happens to all of the people sent back to Mexico while the policy was in effect. The government argued that it doesn’t have sufficient detention space to handle the 60,000 people that arrived during last year’s surge. The lawyers trying to end the law said they are looking for an “orderly unwinding” meaning the 60,000 people who’ve already been sent back to Mexico wouldn’t need to be brought back into the country immediately.

The Wall Street Journal points out that as many as half the migrants returned to Mexico have dropped their asylum claims. If so the number that would need to be returned to the US might be closer to 30,000. Still, that’s nearly an entire month worth of migrants at the current rate.

But the bigger question isn’t about the migrants who have already applied, it’s what will happen once word gets out that remain in Mexico has ended. Will we see new caravans of migrants crossing the southern border of Mexico? Will Mexico stop them once again or will the numbers becoming too overwhelming? The slight increase in border apprehensions we saw this month is nothing compared to what we could see a few months from now if border patrol is forced to once again release people into the US to await their court dates.