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Why border crossings into the U.S. plummeted in January


We turn to the southern border, where there's been a historic increase in migrants attempting to enter the U.S. But there has been a new shift in the story. U.S. Customs and Border Protection is reporting that the number of undocumented migrants crossing into the U.S. dropped by 50% in January. Joining us now is NPR immigration correspondent Jasmine Garsd. Hi there.


SUMMERS: So, Jasmine, start, if you can, by just breaking down these numbers for us.

GARSD: Yeah, this is a significant drop. In December, authorities encountered over 249,000 migrants crossing the border without papers. That's a record number. In January, they encountered over 124,000. Within that, the Tucson sector of Arizona remains the busiest entry area for undocumented crossings, followed by Del Rio, Texas.

SUMMERS: I mean, a 50% drop sounds quite significant. Do you have any indication as to why that has been happening?

GARSD: Well, border crossings are very cyclical and January tends to be a slow month, you know, bad weather. But also, in the last few months there's been so much talk about increasing border enforcement. Doris Meissner from the Migration Policy Institute says that also led to the dip.

DORIS MEISSNER: It's also a reflection of the debate that's been taking place in the United States, the sense that border enforcement is going to tighten. And so people tried to get in in much larger numbers in December.

GARSD: It wasn't just the debates, though. Meissner said that when the Biden administration restarted deportation flights back to Venezuela late last year, that sent a message. And also, since December, the Mexican National Guard has intensified its crackdown on migrants heading north.

SUMMERS: Jasmine, what happens at the border, of course, reverberates in cities across the United States. Have New York, Denver, Chicago felt the impact of this decrease that we're talking about?

GARSD: Yes, definitely. I mean, New York City, which has received over 170,000 migrants in the last two years or so, has seen a plunge in migrants going into the city's care. And city officials say this is related to the decrease at the border. They've said they welcome the reprieve. New York officials have been saying for a long time they're overwhelmed.

SUMMERS: OK, push us forward here. What comes next? Do we expect this dip to keep on going?

GARSD: Well, experts say this is going to go up again. That cycle is going to continue. I spoke to Adam Isacson today from the Washington office on Latin America about that.

ADAM ISACSON: People are fleeing really miserable conditions. There is really nothing we can do at the border line or along the migrant route that is going to be more miserable than what people are already experiencing in the places they're fleeing.

GARSD: So this is something we keep hearing. If the forces that drive migration continue, so will migration.

SUMMERS: Right. And last week here in Washington, we saw the collapse of a border deal which would have been a major doubling down on U.S. border enforcement. Have there been any suggested changes since that effort failed?

GARSD: No, quite the opposite. So this morning, The Washington Post reported that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has drafted plans to release thousands of immigrants and slash its capacity to hold detainees. NPR reached out to Homeland Security, who told us they need more resources and that, quote, "without adequate funding, the department will have to reprogram or pull resources from other efforts."

SUMMERS: Jasmine, sounds like they're talking about cuts. Is that something we can expect to see happen?

GARSD: No concrete cuts. And just to be clear, this isn't entirely new. For several administrations going back to George W. Bush, this has been a practice. It's what critics call catch and release.

SUMMERS: That's NPR's Jasmine Garsd. Thank you.

GARSD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Jasmine Garsd
Jasmine Garsd is an Argentine-American journalist living in New York. She is currently NPR's Criminal Justice correspondent and the host of The Last Cup. She started her career as the co-host of Alt.Latino, an NPR show about Latin music. Throughout her reporting career she's focused extensively on women's issues and immigrant communities in America. She's currently writing a book of stories about women she's met throughout her travels.