Latin American Migration, Once Limited to a Few Countries, Turns Into a Mass Exodus
The gathering of thousands of Haitians at the Texas-Mexico border this past week reflects a stark change in migration patterns to the U.S., driven by Covid-19.
A far broader mix of nationalities is turning up at the border than in the past. For decades, most crossers were Mexican men and, in recent years, families from the troubled Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, known as the Northern Triangle.
Suddenly Ecuadoreans, Brazilians, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans, Haitians and Cubans are turning up by the hundreds of thousands, a trend that accelerated sharply in the past six months.
From October 2020 through August, nearly 300,000 migrants from countries other than Mexico and the Northern Triangle were encountered at the border, a fifth of all crossings. For all of fiscal 2020, when the pandemic slowed the flow of migrants, the figure was nearly 44,000, or 11% of crossings. In fiscal 2019, it was 77,000, or 9% of crossings; and the year before it was only 21,000, or 5%. As recently as 2007 such migrants represented less than 1%.
Among the fastest-growing groups are Haitians. From October of last year through this August, about 28,000 Haitians were arrested trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. That is six times the 4,400 arrested during the entire 2020 fiscal year that ended last September.
The broad wave includes single mothers from Ecuador, Nicaraguan teenagers and farm laborers in Chile. Many cite the same reasons for uprooting their lives and heading north: economic hits from the pandemic that cost jobs and income, the allure of a booming U.S. economy and the belief that President Biden’s administration would welcome them.
“We’ve never experienced anything like this before,” said Austin Skero, who retired this summer as chief patrol agent for the U.S. Border Patrol in the agency’s Del Rio Sector in South Texas. “All of these folks who are kind of surging in Del Rio proper, groups of 150, 100. It’s a mix of Haitians and Cubans, or Venezuelans and Cubans.”
In July and August, migrants from other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean as a group outpaced those from either Mexico or individual countries from the Northern Triangle for the first time.
The influx poses a challenge for the Biden administration. Encounters of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border are near a 20-year high. Border apprehensions are expected to reach about 1.7 million this year, twice the number from 2019. It is unknown how many cross undetected.
The administration this week sent hundreds of Customs and Border Protection agents to stabilize the border and try to keep more migrants from entering. It began deporting Haitians at the border in flights back to their home country.
Many of those apprehended are currently being sent back across the border under a public health authority known as Title 42 that both the Trump and Biden administrations have argued allows the U.S., during a public health emergency, to deny migrants’ rights to request asylum. Some, usually with small children, are allowed to enter and ask for asylum, adding to an already-overwhelmed asylum system.
More than 9 in 10 of the migrants from other countries come from just six Latin American nations: Ecuador, Brazil, Haiti, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.