The Trump administration on Tuesday said arrests at the US-Mexico border fell in September for the fourth month in a row, and credited cooperation from Mexico and Central American countries in cracking down on migrants.
But due to record high numbers of crossings this spring, nearly one million migrants were arrested and deemed inadmissible for entry to the United States in the 2019 fiscal year, which began in October 2017 and ends in September, Mark Morgan acting commissioner of the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), said at a news conference.
Morgan said the bulk of arriving migrants are from Central America, many of them families, fleeing situations of violence and poverty at home and often seeking asylum in the US.
“This is a staggering 88 percent higher than the number of enforcement actions in 2018,” Morgan said.
“These are numbers that no immigrant system in the world is designed to handle, including ours,” he added.
Morgan said there were just over 52,000 migrants either apprehended or encountered at the southwest border in September, down almost 65 percent from a peak in May of 144,000. That monthly total is still the highest September level since at least 2014, according to CBP statistics.
New asylum rule to take effect
Immigration has been a central issue for President Donald Trump whose administration has taken a series of escalating measures to curb access to asylum and limit immigration. Many have drawn legal challenges and strong criticism from human rights groups.
In September, the US Supreme Court allowed a new rule to take effect that could curtail most asylum applications at the border while the legal challenges against it continue.
The rule would mean most asylum seekers who pass through another country first will be ineligible for asylum at the US’s southern border. Morgan said the rule is set to take effect this week.
Another policy, the Migrant Protection Protocols, has been allowed to move forward temporarily by the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals. More than 51,000 migrants have been sent back to Mexico since January to await their US asylum hearings.
The Trump administration has pushed Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to sign deals to accept more asylum seekers closer to home. Few details have been released about when and how the agreements will be implemented.
Many migrants are fleeing transnational gangs that operate in the entire region. Local asylum offices in Central America have few resources to handle a surge of new cases from neighbouring countries.
Mexico has so far resisted signing any kind of “safe third country” agreement that would force migrants to seek refuge there instead of the US.