Illegal border crossings fell in January

The number of people crossing illegally into the United States from Mexico has dropped by 50 percent in the past month, authorities said Tuesday, as President Biden comes under increasing bipartisan pressure over border security.

US Customs and Border Protection said it encountered migrants between ports of entry 124,220 times in January, down from more than 249,000 the previous month.

The numbers don’t change the fact that the number of people crossing into the United States has reached record levels during the Biden administration, and crossings typically decline in January. Immigration trends are affected by weather patterns and other issues, making it difficult to draw conclusions from monthly numbers.

But the drop in crossings was a glimmer of good news for the Biden administration as House Republicans impeached Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas on Tuesday on charges of willfully refusing to enforce border laws. (Their first attempt ended in defeat.)

The figures also provided relief for some major US cities struggling with the burden of sheltering migrants during the winter.

In New York, which has more than 65,000 migrants in hotels, shelters and tents, the number of migrants entering the city’s care in the past month fell to about 1,600 a week, down 55 percent from 3,600 a week in December.

Kayla Mamelak, a spokeswoman for Mayor Eric Adams, said the arrivals of migrants in the city correspond directly to the border crossings. The number of migrants in the city’s shelters has fallen by 5 percent in the past five weeks, partly due to fewer arrivals and partly due to tighter shelter restrictions.

Denver, another city struggling with an influx of migrants, took in 3,041 in January, less than half the total of 6,824 in December, according to official figures. Only 13 migrants arrived in the city on February 13, compared with 26 on February 12, the data showed.

“If this year’s influx of migrants happens like last year’s, it will come in waves. Those shifts will be critical for the city of Denver to rest, learn how to manage its resources, and close the door on what’s next,” said DJ Summers, director of policy and research at the Common Sense Institute in Denver.

Many of the migrants arrived in Democratic-led cities like Boston, Denver, Chicago and New York after traveling on buses sent by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has argued that cities far from the border should share the burden of migrants in his state. Democratic mayors accused him of using human beings as props.

Troy A. Miller, acting head of the border agency, said the drop in border crossings was the result of “seasonal trends as well as increased enforcement efforts” by the Border Patrol and “our international partners.”

In late December, Mr. Biden sent Secretary of State Antonio J. Blinken and other senior U.S. officials to Mexico City, where they met with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to find a way to slow the rise in illegal crossings.

Since that meeting, Mexico has intercepted some migrants traveling north to the United States, according to Jennifer Piper, program director for the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization operating in Mexico.

The United States has also stepped up pressure on countries such as Panama and Guatemala to take measures to prevent migrants from advancing toward Mexico.

Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights organization, said the drop in numbers is likely related to several factors. Among them were rumors that US officials would close the border in December; the second was increased enforcement in Mexico, including removing migrants from trains headed for the southern border and strengthening checkpoints.

Mr Isacson also noted that the number of border crossings regularly drops from December to January.

“It seems to be a combination of the weather (rain in the south, bitter cold at night on the border), plus people don’t like to leave their homes during the year-end holidays unless they have absolutely no choice,” he said.

Immigration has taken on enormous political importance as this year’s presidential election approaches. Mr. Biden blamed his predecessor and presumptive challenger, former President Donald J. Trump, for undermining a bipartisan immigration deal in Congress that would have dismantled the border.

And immigration experts say they expect another rise in numbers soon.

Casa Alitas, a Catholic agency that runs several shelters in Tucson, says the number is steadily increasing again.

In October, November and December, the shelter network received about 1,000 migrants every day. That number fell to an average of about 500 a day in the first three weeks of January. This week, the numbers were back in the 1,000 range.

Diego Piña Lopez, the agency’s director, said the numbers were growing “slowly but surely.”

Andy Newman and Luis Ferré-Sadurní contributed reporting from New York.

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