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Migration Tumult at Mexico-U.S. Border Continues to Escalate 

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) turned individuals away from U.S. ports of entry 1.2 million times in the first three months of 2022, according to a monthly statistics report released Thursday. As the release notes, the figure includes many individuals who have tried to cross the border on several occassions.

Just in the month of March, officials turned away 159,000 people and had a total of 221,303 encounters along the southwest border. Those numbers represent increases compared to February of 37 percent and 33 percent respectively. Twenty-eight percent of the individuals had a prior encounter with CBP in the past 12 months, far greater than the average of 14 percent recorded for the years 2014 through 2019.

CBP also continued to encounter unaccompanied children at the border, with an increase of 18 percent in March to 14,167 encounters, 582 per day on average.

“The new figures were disclosed as the Biden administration comes under increasing pressure over the looming expiration of a public health order that enabled U.S. authorities to turn back most migrants, including people seeking asylum from persecution,” the Associated Press (AP) reported.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) publicized its decision to end a Trump Administration order issued as the COVID-19 pandemic was taking root in 2020 that denied entry to most of the people seeking to migrate to the United States, including those seeking asylum from persecution. The recision of the policy will take effect 23 May.

“While we may likely see an increase in encounters after the CDC’s Title 42 Public Health Order is terminated on May 23rd, CBP continues to execute this administration’s comprehensive strategy to safely, orderly, and humanely manage our borders,” CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus said in the CBP statement. “CBP is surging personnel and resources to the border, increasing processing capacity, securing more ground and air transportation, and increasing medical supplies, food, water, and other resources to ensure a humane environment for those being processed.”

The Washington Post reported that the United States saw a rapid increase of Ukrainian migrants in the month of March, many of them coming via the border with Mexico after Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February. In March, more than 5,000 Ukrainians were detained at all land, sea, and air entry locations, up nearly 500 percent from the 1,150 in February. 

Most Ukrainians have been released into the United States because they have temporary protected status if they arrived by 11 April, though that date is likely to be extended. Migrants with temporary protected status may stay in the United States for 18 months and apply for work permits.

The Post reported that “federal officials estimate 59,600 Ukrainians may apply, lower than previous projections.” U.S. President Joe Biden has said at least 100,000 Ukrainian refugees would be welcomed into the country.

“White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said this month that the administration is crafting an ‘expedited process’ to admit war refugees and that it expects to unveil details soon,” The Post reported. “U.S. officials have said refugees fleeing the war are likely to arrive in a variety of ways, including through the conventional U.S. refugee program, which offers permanent residency but can take months or years to finalize, and the speedier route of humanitarian parole.”

Absent formal pathways into the country, however, Ukrainians fleeing the war are entering the United States in any way they can.

“Some are arriving with tourist visas; others are catching flights to Mexico, waving their passports at border checkpoints, and begging to be let in,” according to The Post.

In addition to a growth in Ukrainian migrants, an increasing number of Cubans have been trying to enter the United States. 

"We have seen a significant increase in irregular Cuban migrants to the United States, both via land and maritime routes,' a U.S. State Department spokesperson said in Reuters coverage of the development.

“The spokesperson, who asked not to be named, declined to confirm the planned meeting but said ‘we regularly engage with Cuban officials on issues of importance to the U.S. government, such as human rights and migration.'"

American and Cuban officials are scheduled to meet on Thursday. Among the issues on the agenda is Cuba’s refusal to allow the United States to deport Cubans.

“As of March 26, there were about 40,000 Cubans in the United States with a final deportation order from an immigration judge,” Reuters reported.

Border tensions also remain high after the U.S. state of Texas’s controversial decision two weeks ago to perform thorough inspections of every truck entering the state from Mexico. The inspections caused a miles-long backup entering Texas, exacerbated supply chain and inflation pressures, and prompted a protest from Mexican truckers who blocked all north-bound traffic.

By the end of last week, Texas Governor Greg Abbott had relented, reserving the right to reinstitute the policy should there be a spike of illegal immigration into the state.

And finally, people desperate to gain entry across the U.S.-Mexico border are making risky attempts, as evidenced by a woman who died trying to cross near Douglas, Arizona, on Monday. The Mexican woman used a climbing harness to scale the border fence but became entangled attempting to descend and hung upside down for an extended time, eventually dying as a result.

More than 650 people died trying to cross the border in 2021, more than any other year since the organization began tracking such deaths in 2014, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

“Saving lives is a top priority. States and other actors must urgently take more action to address the growing migrant death toll,” said Michele Klein-Solomon, IOM regional director for Central, North America and the Caribbean. “Families in search of the truth about missing migrant relatives need answers, and policymakers need better data to ensure migration is safe and dignified for all.”