Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz said this week that his agents have encountered hundreds of thousands of migrants from more than 140 countries — in the same week he told lawmakers that DHS does not have “operational control” of the southern border.
“So far, in FY23, U.S. Border Patrol apprehended 900,590 individuals from 147 countries,” Ortiz said. FY 2023 began in October.
The top five countries for apprehensions were Mexico, Cuba, Nicaragua, Colombia and Guatemala.
Ortiz’s announcement came as Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced that there were 154,998 migrant encounters overall at the southern border in February, down from the 166,010 encountered in February 2022 and down slightly from the 156,770 encountered in January 2023. In February 2021, there were 101,099 encounters and 36,687 encounters in February 2020.
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While still relatively high, the number mark the lowest encounters since January 2022 and the second lowest since February 2021. In its release, CBP said that 71.4% of encounters at the southern border in February were single adults. Of those encountered, 46.8% were expelled under the Title 42 order, which allows for the rapid expulsion of migrants due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The administration has tied the decrease to border measures it rolled out in January. It unveiled a humanitarian parole program for Venezuela, Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua, which allows up to 30,000 migrants a month to fly in. It also expanded Title 42 expulsions to include those nationalities.
It has also proposed an asylum rule that will make migrants automatically ineligible for asylum if they have entered illegally and crossed through another country without seeking refuge.
That will go into effect ahead of the ending of Title 42 expulsions, which allow for the rapid expulsion of migrants due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The order will end on May 11 along with the ending of the public health emergency, and has raised concerns about a new spike in migration.
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Ortiz dealt something of a blow to the administration’s narratives on the border crisis when he addressed a House Homeland Security Committee hearing on Wednesday. He told lawmakers that the border was not under operational control — conflicting with remarks made by DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas last year — while saying he disagreed with President Biden’s decision to end border wall construction.
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DHS, however, said that the hearing “highlights the vital work the Department of Homeland Security does every day to enforce our laws, secure our border, and combat cartels and smugglers” and pointed to testimony from Ortiz and other witnesses that showed “new programs, technology, and investments are making a real impact.”
“Despite inheriting a dismantled immigration system and facing unprecedented migration that is affecting nations throughout the Western Hemisphere, this administration has surged resources to the border, reducing the number of encounters between ports of entry, disrupting more smuggling operations than ever before, and interdicting more drugs in the last two years than had been stopped in the five years prior,” a spokesperson said.
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