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Arizona, U.S. could see significant drop in migrants, data indicates

Biden Border

Venezuelan migrant Jose Castillo looks skywards while praying at a camping site in El Paso, Texas, Jan. 8. The number of Venezuelans who came into the U.S. unauthorized continued to drop in December. It has been declining under the Biden administration’s new policy to immediately expel more migrants from Venezuela, under public health policy Title 42, while simultaneously creating more legal pathways for them to enter the country. 

The number of migrants coming into the country at the U.S.-Mexico border could decrease this month because of a new migration policy, based on preliminary data released Friday.

The number of Venezuelans who came into the country unauthorized continued to drop in December. It has been declining under the Biden administration’s new policy set in October to immediately expel more migrants from Venezuela, under public health policy Title 42, while simultaneously creating more legal pathways for them to enter the country.

If that trend continues for migrants from countries added to the policy in January, Arizona and the nation as a whole could see a substantial decrease in migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border.

In the three months since the policy was enacted, the number of times Venezuelans were apprehended at the border in Arizona decreased by more than 84%, according to Customs and Border Protection data released Jan. 20.

President Joe Biden announced an expansion to this policy on Jan. 5, to include migrants from Nicaragua, Cuba and Haiti.

The U.S. could expel 30,000 people from those countries to Mexico a month, and at the same time 30,000 people a month from those countries would be allowed to come into the U.S., but only if they applied for the program before making the trip to the border.

While migrants from Venezuela were not crossing the border in large numbers in Arizona, migrants from Cuba made up nearly 23% of apprehensions at the state’s U.S.-Mexico border in December. If you add in the other two countries included in the expansion, Haiti and Nicaragua, that makes up nearly 27% of apprehensions in Arizona in December, at 14,542.

Overall, the Yuma Sector, covering 126 miles of border with Mexico from the Yuma-Pima county line west to Imperial Sand Dunes in eastern California, saw the third highest number of apprehensions in the country in December, at 30,664. First was the El Paso Sector followed by Del Rio Sector, both in Texas.

Cuban and Nicaraguan encounters will likely decrease sharply in January, similar to the decrease in Venezuelans, according to Ariel Ruiz, policy analyst with the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank. Reports suggest that at the current pace, encounters in January could be the lowest since February 2021, depending on changes in other nationalities, he said in a tweet.

While data on January’s apprehensions won’t be made public until sometime in February, if the policy works with other nationalities in the way it has with Venezuelans, Arizona and the rest of the country could see a decrease in migrants at the southern border.

“The December update shows our new border enforcement measures are working … we continued to see a sharp decline in the number of Venezuelans unlawfully crossing our southwest border, down 82% from September 2022,” said acting CBP Commissioner Troy Miller in a written statement. “Early data suggests the expanded measures for Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans are having a similar impact, and we look forward to sharing the additional data in the next update.”

Nationwide, migrants from the four Western hemisphere countries in the program made up about 23% of apprehensions in fiscal year 2022, which ended in September. Migrants from Ukraine are being processed under a similar program.

Migration trends have been shifting over the last few years. While the majority of migrants crossing unauthorized at the U.S.-Mexico border historically were from Mexico and the Northern Triangle — Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — over the last few years there has been a huge increase in migrants coming to the U.S. from countries that are much farther away, as political, civil and economic unrest grows in the Western Hemisphere and throughout the world.

The number of migrants at the border continued to increase in December as more people fled failing communist regimes in Nicaragua and Cuba, Miller said.

“We are continuing to see a shifting migration pattern, with individuals from Mexico and northern Central America accounting for just 24% of unique encounters in December, a significant drop from the 42% they represented a year ago, as more migrants arrived from countries like Cuba and Nicaragua,” he said.

“This new migration challenge is not unique to the United States. There are 2.5 million Venezuelans now living in Colombia and 1.5 million in Peru; Brazil and Chile are hosting more than 350,000 Haitians, and the number of displaced Nicaraguans in Costa Rica has more than doubled in the last 12 months alone.”

Nationwide, there was a record number of apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border in December, for at least the last three years, at 301,625 apprehensions. With 54,302 of those apprehensions in Arizona, that is high but not a record, as the state saw higher numbers during several single months in 2022.

President Joe Biden walked a muddy stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border and inspected a busy port of entry Sunday on his first trip to the region after two years in office. A visit shadowed by the fraught politics of immigration as Republicans blame him for record numbers of migrants crossing into the country.

Contact reporter Danyelle Khmara at or 573-4223. On Twitter: @DanyelleKhmara

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