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An uptick in Southern border crossings is expected to increase


It's the spring, the season when traditionally, more migrants start showing up at the U.S. southern border than in other parts of the year. And this time around, observers and immigration analysts predict a drastic increase of people trying to cross into the country during the upcoming months, despite a heavily fortified border with Mexico. NPR's immigration correspondent Sergio Martinez-Beltran is joining us with more on this. So what is the basis for this projection, and how do analysts know that migrants will continue to arrive at the border?

SERGIO MARTINEZ-BELTRAN, BYLINE: Weather seasons traditionally dictate migration patterns, and warmer months means more migrants coming. But even more important than that, A, these experts are seeing an increase in the number of people traveling through the Darien Gap. That's the 100-mile-long jungle between Colombia and Panama. This year, Panama has seen an increase in crossings. Ariel Ruiz Soto is senior policy analyst with the Migration Policy Institute, and he's been paying attention to these areas.

ARIEL RUIZ SOTO: And we've seen that in the Darien, slowly the numbers of Venezuelans have been increasing, and we would expect that some of them will also potentially slowly make it over to the United States.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Two out of three migrants crossing through the jungle are from Venezuela. Ruiz Soto and others also monitor the borders between Central American countries. They've seen an increase of Cubans crossing through Honduras. These areas are key to monitor migration flows from South and Central America.

MARTÍNEZ: And what do we know about the people showing up at the U.S. southern border?

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Well, most of the migrants crossing the southern border are from Mexico, and a majority are family units. That is, at least a minor accompanied by a parent or a legal guardian. The latest report by U.S. Customs and Border Protection show Venezuelans are the second-largest group of migrants crossing, and most of them are single adults. Now, beyond Mexico and Venezuela, people from Guatemala, Honduras and Cuba continue to show up at the border.

MARTÍNEZ: So tell us more about those numbers at the southern border. You're in Texas, Sergio. What are you seeing?

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Last month, there was a slight decrease of about 2% in encounters at the southern border - that's the term the government uses when a migrant is picked up by immigration authorities - but before last month, we had seen a spike in apprehensions. What's interesting is where along the southern border migrants are crossing. The Tucson sector in Arizona has seen more crossings than any other sector in the southern border. Last year, it was through Texas, and this shift is palpable.

I was in Eagle Pass - right? - in the Rio Grande, and I talked to folks who assist migrants, and they said it's been pretty quiet lately. Now, if you ask Texas officials, they tell you the shift is due to the state's Operation Lone Star border security initiative, which was launched in 2021. Texas has spent over $11 billion trying to stop illegal crossings by deploying the state National Guard and lining up razor wire in sections of the Rio Grande, but analysts say it might be too early to know if all these efforts are actually having an impact, considering that Texas saw the highest number of illegal crossings last year.

MARTÍNEZ: What's been Mexico's role in all this?

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Right. So Mexico has ramped up its border enforcement. It commissioned its National Guard to patrol its borders with Guatemala and the U.S, and that has disrupted the flow of migrants. Late last year, Mexico restarted repatriation flights to Venezuela, and last month, it announced a plan to provide a stipend for Venezuelans who choose to return to their country and work for certain participating companies there. Now, an analysis by the Washington Office on Latin America found there are still a lot of Venezuelans and migrants from other countries who are stuck in Mexico, but their ultimate destination is still the U.S., so those numbers are not reflected yet.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. That's NPR's Sergio Martinez-Beltran. Thanks a lot.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Sergio Martínez-Beltrán
Sergio Martínez-Beltrán (SARE-he-oh mar-TEE-nez bel-TRAHN) is an immigration correspondent based in Texas.