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Encounters at the U.S. border drop 9% in May, before asylum restrictions kicked in

Migrants and asylum seekers wait to be processed by the Border Patrol between fences at the US-Mexico border seen from Tijuana, Baja California state, Mexico, on June 5, 2024.
Migrants and asylum seekers wait to be processed by the Border Patrol between fences at the US-Mexico border seen from Tijuana, Baja California state, Mexico, on June 5, 2024.

The number of encounters with migrants attempting to cross into the U.S. with no authorization dropped 9% in May, compared with April.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection also reported a 17% decrease in encounters with migrants, compared to the same month a year ago.

During the last couple of months, the Biden administration has issued several executive actions attempting to curtail unauthorized crossings through the U.S. Southern border.

In early May, President Biden issued a proclamation restricting asylum claims to most migrants when a 7-day average of 2,500 unauthorized daily crossings across the entire Southern border is met.

Under the suspension anyone who expresses fear of being sent back to their country or manifests an intention to seek asylum is screened by a U.S. officer but at a higher standard than before the newer asylum rules took effect.

Plus, Mexico has ramped up its efforts to stop migrats coming from Central and South America, which partially explains lower numbers of crossings.

In a release, CBP said: "The message for anyone who is thinking of entering the United States unlawfully along the southern border is simple: don’t do it."

In may, Border Patrol made 117,900 arrests of people attempting to enter between official border crossing points. CBP had reported 128,900 encounters in April, a 6% decrease from March.

This is the fifth month showing a decrease in encounters, after an all-time spike in December, when 301,983 migrants were stopped at the border.

CBP also reported a 25% decrease in daily encounters between ports of entry since the May 5th asylum restrictions were announced. However, the agency said these are preliminary numbers from the first two weeks of implementation, and noted that migration patterns often change through the summer months.

“Our enforcement efforts are continuing to reduce southwest border encounters. But the fact remains that our immigration system is not resourced for what we are seeing,” Troy A. Miller, the acting head of CBP, said in a statement.

For May, the Tucson, Ariz. sector reported the highest number of encounters (33,226) closely followed by San Diego, Calif. (32,504) and El Paso, Texas (23,470). About 68% of all people intercepted were single adults, and most were Mexican nationals.

The president is facing pressure from the public to show that his policies are succesful at stopping undocumented immigration.

In an NPR/PBS News/Marist National Poll released earlier this week, more voters (54%) said they view former President and Republican candidate Donald Trump as stronger on the issues of immigration than Biden (44%.)

“This action will help us to gain control of our border, restore order to the process,” Biden said during his May 5 announcement.

One week later, the ACLU filed a lawsuitin federal court, challenging the legality of the executive actions.

Civil rights and immigrant defense groups have criticized Biden’s actions, saying these restrictions will push migrants to try to cross the border through more remote and dangerous areas, prompting another humanitarian crisis.

Earlier this week, Biden issued additional executive actions to provide parole and a possible path for legal status to about 500,000 undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens.

Copyright 2024 NPR

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.