'New normal': High number of migrants crossing border not likely to slow

With migrants in need of housing, safety and economic opportunity continuing to enter the United States, the overall number of migrant encounters with U.S. authorities this year has already surpassed last year's total.

And that number is expected to keep climbing.

How many migrants crossed the border in 2023?

More than 2.8 million migrants have had encounters with authorities so far this fiscal year, compared to more than 2.7 million migrants in 2022, according to the latest Customs and Border Protection (CBP) statistics. The current migrant figure includes August, but not September, the last month of this fiscal year, which has yet to be announced.

About 2.2 million people were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border through August, compared to 2.38 million border encounters for all of last year.

"They've already exceeded last year's totals by now. There's no doubt. The encounters probably beat 2022 sometime during the middle of this month," said Adam Isacson, director of defense oversight for Washington on Latin America (WOLA), a nonprofit advocacy organization. Isacson, who researches border security, said it's possible the overall migrant encounter number this year could reach 3 million or more. "It looks like it's on pace," he said.

The latest numbers come as some Americans are getting frustrated with migrants arriving in their neighborhoods with limited shelter and assistance options. Many said they want the federal government and local officials to do more to provide help to those in need and find a better solution for migrants hoping to enter the U.S.

A group of migrants climb over razor wire as they cross the Rio Grande river at the US-Mexico border to Eagle Pass, Texas.
A group of migrants climb over razor wire as they cross the Rio Grande river at the US-Mexico border to Eagle Pass, Texas.

Where are the migrants coming from? Venezuela, Nicaragua and more

Isacson said the migrant arrivals, mostly asylum seekers, at the U.S.-Mexico border have now risen to about 8,000 migrants daily. It's a level last seen in April, before the termination of Title 42, a COVID-19 pandemic policy that allowed the U.S. to cite fears of spreading the virus as a reason to expel migrants.

"I think that's going to be the new normal, this current high level seems to be the baseline and it's changing quickly. It could go up to 10,000 migrants," said Isacson about the daily arrivals, adding that migrants from Venezuela, Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador are trying to enter the country. "Parts of the world, especially Latin America, haven't recovered from the pandemic and their economies have worsened and some governments have been dictatorial as of late."

Isacson added that Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said during a press conference last week that U.S. authorities encountered more than 142,000 migrants at the border during the first half of September, according to CBP figures. That's slightly more than half of the August total of 232,000.

Because of various upheavals in their homelands, many migrant arrivals today have "fewer social ties than in the past" to the U.S. as they "now need more of a safety net," said Colleen Putzel-Kavanaugh, an associate policy analyst with the nonprofit Migration Policy Institute.

Why are so many migrants arriving in the US?

Many migrants are seeking to improve their lives, find jobs, and places to seek refuge, be it in shelters, hotels, community centers, airports, bus stops, and even sidewalks, experts said.

"The flow is continuous," said Laura Cruz-Acosta, a city spokeswoman in El Paso, Texas, a border town accustomed to welcoming migrants. The city receives more than 1,800 migrants a day but is now feeling somewhat strained as its shelters are over capacity, she said.

Mayor Oscar Leeser said at a news conference on Sept. 23 that the city had reached "a breaking point." The city's data dashboard showed Thursday that 7,600 migrants were in CPB custody, and more than 1,300 were being released into the city daily.

Why are Abbott, DeSantis sending migrants to NYC?

The migrants have sparked both local and federal debates among government officials.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams has blamed a lack of federal aid and Republican Govs. Greg Abbott in Texas and Ron DeSantis in Florida, who's also a GOP presidential candidate, for sending asylum-seekers to Northern states in recent months and causing a crisis.

During a speech in New York City Wednesday, Abbott said he sent 15,800 migrants to New York City, about 10% of the nearly 120,000 who have arrived there in the past year.

"What you're dealing with in New York, what you are seeing and witnessing in this state is a tiny fraction of what's happening every single day in the state of Texas," Abbott said. "This is unsustainable, and those are the words of your mayor. Those are the words of the mayors of Chicago and Los Angeles. Those are the words of the governor of Texas. What’s going on is unsustainable. It’s a crisis that’s chaotic and must stop."

Abbott's criticism didn't stop there. He also took aim at President Joe Biden.

"Joe Biden can flip that switch any day and stop New York from having to deal with the consequences of an open border," Abbott said. "They must prevail upon their president for more than just money. They need a change in policy."

In response, Adams' office said in a statement, "If he genuinely wanted to be part of the solution to this humanitarian crisis, Gov. Abbott would urge his Republican colleagues in Congress to collaborate with President Biden on desperately needed and long overdue immigration reform."

White House says Congress must pass immigration reform

A White House spokesperson said in a statement that Biden has called on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

"Without Congressional action, this Administration has been working to build a safe, orderly, and humane immigration system and we’ve led the largest expansion of lawful pathways for immigration in decades," the statement said. "The federal government is working to provide information and services to ensure that those who are eligible submit their work permit applications immediately."

Most of those big U.S. cities weren't prepared for the arrival of migrants en masse ranging from single adults to large families with small children, said Colleen Putzel-Kavanaugh, an associate policy analyst with the nonprofit Migration Policy Institute.

"It's not like migrants haven't been going to New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, D.C.," Putzel-Kavanaugh said. "They are arriving in larger numbers and those larger numbers are exacerbating the situation."

How many migrants arrive at the US-Mexico border each month?

In August, there were 232,972 migrant encounters, either arrests or detainments, at the southern border (the most since December 2002), a spike from the 183,494 encountered in July and the 144,570 encountered in June, according to Customs and Border Protection. Last month's figure is also an increase from 204,087 encounters in August 2022.

Within the last five- to 10 years, the Border Patrol has been dealing with "different flows of migrants, changes in their nationalities and demographics, and the tools Border Patrol have at their disposal aren't fit for that," said Putzel-Kavanaugh, of the Migration Policy Institute.

Customs and Border Protection officials said migrants without any legal basis to stay will be processed for removal and face consequences that include a minimum five-year bar on re-entry, loss of eligibility to access lawful pathways, and prosecution for repeat offenders.

"We remain vigilant and expect to see fluctuations, knowing that smugglers continue to use misinformation to prey on vulnerable individuals. CBP is executing our operational plans and working to decompress areas along the southwest border," a Customs and Border Protection spokesperson said in a statement to USA TODAY. "We are safely and efficiently vetting and processing migrants to place them in immigration enforcement proceedings consistent with our laws and operational planning efforts."

Illegal border crossings worth the risk for some

For many migrants who travel hundreds, if not thousands of miles, many with their families, to get to the U.S., they may think it's worth the risk, said Victor Manjarrez, a former Border Patrol chief in the El Paso sector and the director of the Center for Law and Human Behavior at the University of Texas at El Paso.

He said many migrants come to the U.S. to work. He pointed to a decision this month from the Department of Homeland Security that it would grant Temporary Protected Status to an estimated 472,000 Venezuelans in the U.S. as of July 31 to help ease a path to work authorization. The TPS is in addition to nearly 243,000 Venezuelans who already qualified for the temporary status.

Manjarrez said many migrants tend to believe what smugglers and others who are misinformed tell them, rather than government officials.

Isacson, the defense director of WOLA, said while there may be a lot of policies migrants have to contend with, many of them might assume it can't be as bad as what they've endured to get to the U.S.

"When you compare risking your life going through a jungle, a desert, or the Rio Grande to escape living in a dangerous slum in Caracas (Venezuela)," Isacson said. "Compared to that kind of life, they probably think there's no level of misery that these policies can impose that is worse than what they are fleeing from."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: How many migrants crossed the border in 2023? More people are arriving