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Migrant crossings at U.S.-Mexico border plunge 54% from record highs, internal figures show

El Paso, Texas Illegal crossings along the U.S.-Mexico border in May are down more than 50% from records in December, giving the Biden administration an unexpected reprieve at a time when migration has historically increased, according to internal data from the government obtained by CBS News.

During the first 21 days of May, U.S. Border Patrol agents averaged about 3,700 daily apprehensions of migrants between official ports of entry. This represents a 54% decrease from the daily average of 8,000 in December, when illegal entries flew at a quarter of a million, an absolute record.

May is also on track to see the third consecutive month-over-month decline in illegal border crossings, according to preliminary statistics from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. In March And April, illegal crossings along the southern border fell to 137,000 and 129,000, respectively, according to public government data. If the trend continues, Border Patrol is expected to record between 110,000 and 120,000 arrests in May.

Border Patrol arrests do not include the number of migrants processed at official border crossings, where the Biden administration admits about 1,500 asylum seekers daily.

Although still high compared to pre-pandemic levels, the decline in migration this year has been unusual, bucking the trend in recent years of a sharp rise in migrant crossings in the spring . Senior U.S. officials have attributed the lower-than-expected levels of illegal crossings in part to the Mexican government’s aggressive crackdown on U.S.-bound migrants.

Mayorkas at the border

In an interview with CBS News in El Paso on Thursday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas also attributed the downward trend to the Biden administration’s efforts.

“We have reduced the number of encounters at our southern border quite dramatically,” Mayorkas told CBS News.

Mayorkas cited a “number of actions that we have taken, not only increasing our enforcement, not only attacking smugglers, but also creating legal pathways that allow people eligible for aid to reach the states -United in a safe, orderly and legal manner.” “

The sustained decline in migrant crossings is good news politically for President Biden, who has faced heavy criticism from two directions: moderate Republicans and Democrats who say his immigration agenda is too lenient, and progressives who argue his administration adopted some Trump-era border policies. . Immigration has also become a major concern among American voters in the run-up to the November presidential election.

Aware of the politics around immigration ahead of his election campaign, Mr. Biden is considering an executive order that would attempt to halt the processing of asylum applications along the southern border when illegal crossings increase, three people told CBS News familiar with White House plans. Officials hope to move forward with the move, which would rely on broad presidential authority known as 212(f), in June, although the timeline could change, the sources said, requesting anonymity. to discuss internal deliberations.

Although he did not confirm the expected executive action, Mayorkas said he was “not ruling out options.”

“We are reviewing options… every day, to see what more we can do to strengthen the security of our borders, consistent with the law and our country’s values,” Mayorkas said.

Administration officials have frequently urged Congress to reform the U.S. immigration system, warning that any executive action could be delayed in court because of legal challenges.

Senate Democrats tried and failed to advance a bipartisan border security bill for a second time Thursday, calling for the vote to highlight Republican opposition to the legislation in an effort to shift public opinion on the issue.

This proposal, which was negotiated by the White House and a small bipartisan group of senators earlier this year, would give the president emergency authority to suspend asylum between ports of entry when illegal border crossings reach a certain level. It would also preserve the processing of asylum applications at official ports of entry and allow migrants who pass their first asylum interview to work in the United States immediately after being released from federal custody.

Most Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, rejected the border deal as too weak.

Mayorkas said Thursday he was “very disappointed” by the rejection of the border deal.

“I think President Biden has made that pretty clear,” Mayorkas said. “Some want to solve the problem for political reasons, rather than providing the solutions that border security and the security needs of our country and the American people deserve.”

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