Border Patrol agents in Southern Arizona are seeing a steady increase in the number of migrants they encounter each month, figures released this week show.
Agents in the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector encountered about 19,800 migrants in March, up from about 14,600 in February.
Agents in the Yuma Sector encountered about 11,800 migrants in March, up from about 5,100 in February, according to Customs and Border Protection statistics released Thursday.
Adult migrants traveling without children accounted for the majority of the encounters last month in Arizona, but Border Patrol agents continued to see a sharp increase in families traveling together and children traveling on their own.
The increase in border “encounters,” a term recently adopted by CBP officials to include migrants apprehended while crossing the border clandestinely and migrants who seek out officials to ask for asylum, began last spring and accelerated in the past two months, according to CBP statistics. So far, most of the encounters have been along Texas’ border with Mexico.
Administration officials said this week that “the number of encounters at the border has been rising since April 2020 due to reasons which include violence, natural disasters, food insecurity, and poverty” in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
Republican officials who visited the border recently, including Gov. Doug Ducey, say the rise in border encounters is the result of President Biden rolling back some of former President Donald Trump’s policies, such as the Migrant Protection Protocols that forced thousands of asylum seekers to wait in Mexican border towns for a chance to speak with U.S. officials.
One key policy Biden maintained from the Trump administration was a public-health order known as Title 42 that allowed the Border Patrol to quickly expel hundreds of thousands of migrants to Mexico.
CBP officials say the policy is necessary to avoid spreading the coronavirus among agents and at immigration detention centers. Critics of the policy say it is being used unlawfully to block migrants from asking for asylum.
As a result of Title 42, some migrants quickly try again to cross the border after they are expelled. Administration officials said 60% of the encounters along the U.S.-Mexico border in March were Title 42 expulsions. Of those expelled, 28% already had been expelled under Title 42.
The Border Patrol uses the Title 42 health order far more in the Tucson Sector than in the Yuma Sector, according to the statistics CBP released Thursday, which for the first time provided information about how Title 42 is used in each Border Patrol sector.
In the Tucson Sector, the Border Patrol expelled about 68,700 migrants to Mexico under Title 42 since Oct. 1, the start of the federal fiscal year and the earliest date for the new statistics. Among them were about 3,500 who were traveling as families, including about 1,900 from Guatemala and more than 500 from Honduras.
Another 11,400 migrants in the Tucson Sector were processed for immigration violations, including about 3,900 unaccompanied children from Guatemala and 1,700 unaccompanied children from Mexico. Those children are referred to federal Housing and Human Services, CBP officials say.
In the Yuma Sector, the Border Patrol expelled about 7,700 migrants to Mexico under Title 42 since Oct. 1, including about 2,300 who were traveling as families. Among the families were about 800 migrants from Guatemala and 700 from Honduras.
About 13,800 migrants in the Yuma Sector were processed for immigration violations, with the vast majority listed as being from countries other than Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador.
Contact reporter Curt Prendergast at 573-4224 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @CurtTucsonStar.