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Migrant border crossings into the U.S. dropped significantly in January

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The number of migrants trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border went down by 50% in January.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

That's compared to the record number of undocumented people who crossed the border in December.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Jasmine Garsd covers immigration and joins us now to unpack what's driving this. Fifty percent - sounds like a pretty significant drop. Why did that happen?

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: It is a pretty steep dip. I mean, for context, in December, authorities encountered over 249,000 migrants crossing the border unauthorized. That's the highest monthly total ever recorded, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Now, in January, they encountered over 124,000. So, why? Well, we know the border crossings are very cyclical, and January is a slow month because of weather. But think about what's been going on in the U.S. in the last few months, these really heated arguments about increasing border enforcement. So I spoke to Isaac Abramson (ph) from the Washington Office on Latin America about how that sparked rumors that the U.S. was closing down its border.

ADAM ISACSON: Migrants were widely believing that something was going to happen at the end of December, and you had to get in before the end of the year. It's a combination of word of mouth and also some messaging from smugglers saying, go now. Go now. Be my customer now.

GARSD: So basically, it led to a let's get ahead of this and run in December and then a drop in January.

MARTÍNEZ: Was there any change in U.S. enforcement on the border that could have led to it?

GARSD: Well, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has said border enforcement agents didn't have the funding to secure the border in the month of December. So that's why you saw such high numbers. Congress has failed to provide additional funding for major changes in border enforcement. So what we're seeing again is seasonal dips, rumors of a border shutdown and some more enforcement in Mexico. Also, the Biden administration restarted deportation flights back to Venezuela and other countries, which has sent a message.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, you mentioned Congress failing to approve that additional funding for border security. Do you think that will affect the flow of migrants trying to get to the U.S.?

GARSD: Sources I spoke to told me, despite this slip, they expect border crossings to keep going up and the immigration system to continue being overwhelmed. Just yesterday, The Washington Post reported that as a result of that inaction by Congress, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has drafted plans to release thousands of immigrants and slash its capacity to hold detainees. Abramson says it's an outdated and ill-funded system.

ISACSON: In general, they're working with infrastructure that was built for, you know, single Mexican adults, mostly male adults who were economic migrants. That was the typical migrant until 2014.

GARSD: Nowadays at the border, it's families. It's kids. It's people from all over the world. Immigration has changed so much in the last couple of decades. The system hasn't.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, that's Jasmine Garsd. Thank you very much for letting us know about all this.

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

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Corrected: February 14, 2024 at 11:00 PM CST
One of the sources used in the clips in this story is misidentified as "Isaac Abramson." The correct name is "Adam Isacson."
A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
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.