Biden administration officials said Monday that the number of migrants crossing the southern border had dropped dramatically over the weekend, following a significant increase early last week in the lead-up to the expiration of Title 42.
Some speculated that the end Thursday of Title 42, a policy used amid the COVID-19 pandemic to turn back migrants at the border without giving them access to asylum protections, would bring about an influx of crossings. But the Biden administration has long said it was prepared for the moment and had been planning for the change, despite attacks from Republicans who argued that border policy was being mismanaged.
The worries about increased migration were reflected in recent court filings from border officials who said that encounters could reach upward of 14,000 a day after Title 42 was lifted. Instead, the numbers have dropped.
Blas Nuñez-Neto, a lead Department of Homeland Security official, said there had been a 50% decrease in crossings over the weekend, compared to the more than 10,000 a day they had seen early last week. He said that, over the weekend, they had averaged below 5,000 encounters a day.
Still, he warned that it was too early to draw any conclusions and that smugglers would continue to try to take advantage of the moment by spreading disinformation that encouraged migrants to cross.
Nuñez-Neto added that Mexican and Guatemalan officials had stepped up enforcement in recent days and that the U.S. had already deported thousands to their home countries. He reiterated that DHS would continue speedy deportations and was enforcing a policy limiting asylum for those who cross without authorization. Nuñez-Neto warned that those who are deported face a five-year reentry ban and could face prosecution if they attempt to cross again.
“It is too early, but the numbers that we have experienced over the past two days are markedly down over what they were prior to the end of Title 42,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said on CNN on Sunday, adding that there had been 6,300 crossings Friday and around 4,200 on Saturday.
On Monday, Raul Ortiz, head of the U.S. Border Patrol, said the agency had apprehended 14,752 migrants in the previous 72 hours.
In the meantime, the administration is facing two lawsuits that could have big impacts. The American Civil Liberties Union sued DHS late Thursday over its new policy limiting asylum at the border, calling it unlawful and seeking a federal court order blocking it.
The policy limits asylum access from those who cross through a third country and do not seek protections on their way to the United States. The ACLU said it resembles a Trump administration policy that barred asylum access for those who crossed through a third country and did not apply for asylum there.
At the same time, the administration is facing a lawsuit from the Florida attorney general’s office, which won a temporary block on a policy that allowed border officials to release migrants from custody without court notices. Migrants were told they were required to check in with immigration officials in the United States.
Judge T. Kent Wetherell, who was appointed to the district court by then-President Trump, issued the temporary restraining order on Thursday. The Biden administration sought an emergency stay from the judge. On Monday, Wetherell denied the stay. The government had previously said it would go to the the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals if denied.
In filings last week, they warned that without the power to quickly release people, there could be overcrowding at border facilities.
“At the current operational pace, and without any additional measures such as Parole with Conditions, USBP would have over 45,000 individuals in custody by the end of the month. Further, the [U.S. Department of Homeland Security] Chief Medical Officer has concluded that ‘current conditions pose an increased risk of adverse health outcomes,’” the filing from the Department of Justice lawyers read.
In a Monday filing, Florida officials argued that Wetherell should not stay his order and pointed to the recent advertised drop in crossings.
“DHS claims that this relief is necessary ‘to address the skyrocketing number of encounters at the southwest border,’” the filing read. “Yet, Secretary Mayorkas told ABC News yesterday that, ‘over the past two days, the United States border patrol has seen an approximately 50% drop in the number of people encountered at our southern border.’”
Migrants are being told by officials that they should seek appointments at ports of entry and apply for asylum in the United States. The Biden administration has also continued a program that allows migrants from Nicaragua, Cuba, Venezuela and Haiti to fly into the U.S. if they have a financial sponsor and can pass certain background checks.