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At the border, migrants ‘wait and see’ as encounters with Border Patrol dip 40%

Border patrol agents pick up migrants waiting to be processed in Dulzara, California on June 25, 2024.
Zaydee Sanchez for NPR
Border patrol agents pick up migrants waiting to be processed in Dulzara, California on June 25, 2024.

Jacumba Valley, Calif. — Encounters between U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and migrants crossing the southern border without authorization decreased by 40% in the three weeks since new asylum restrictions took effect.

In announcing the executive actions on June 4, President Biden said these measures were needed to bring “order to the border.”

His administration points to the latest statistics as proof that the new policies are succeeding.

“The president’s actions are working because of their tough response to illegal crossings,” Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said at a press conference in Tucson, Arizona on Wednesday.

“We are removing more noncitizens without a legal basis to stay here.”

But the number of people arrested while attempting to cross the border declined over the past five months, and not all of that is attributable to U.S. policy. Mexico also scaled up its enforcement and has been stopping migrants from trekking north toward the U.S.

Mayorkas says the administration has doubled the number of expedited removals in the last three weeks, with more than 100 international repatriation flights to 20 countries. 

According to the DHS, arrests haven’t been this low since January 2021.

Crossings are fewer but still hazardous for those who make the journey

So far on the California border, there’s been a noticeable shift: up until last month, the San Diego sector had been the place with most undocumented migrant crossings.

A migrant woman and her nine-year-old hold each other as they wait for border patrol agents in Dulzara, California. The family of three migrated from Ecuador and is hoping to seek asylum in the U.S. June 25, 2024.
Zaydee Sanchez for NPR /
A migrant woman and her nine-year-old hold each other as they wait for border patrol agents in Dulzara, California. The family of three migrated from Ecuador and is hoping to seek asylum in the U.S. June 25, 2024.
A sandal can be seen through the busses of the desert in Dulzura, California, on June 24, 2024.
Zaydee Sanchez for NPR /
A sandal can be seen through the busses of the desert in Dulzura, California, on June 24, 2024.
A couple of migrants wait to be processed by border patrol agents in Dulzara, California on June 25, 2024.
Zaydee Sanchez for NPR /
A couple of migrants wait to be processed by border patrol agents in Dulzara, California on June 25, 2024.

Just weeks ago, hundreds of migrants still waited in campsites scattered throughout California's Jacumba Valley, a remote area 80 miles east of San Diego. There, they could wait to be picked up by Border Patrol and petition for asylum.

Lately, these locations look mostly empty, and makeshift tents flap in the wind. But some people still cross the border and end up here — including a family with three small children NPR encountered at one of the sweltering desert camps.

One of the children, a 7-year-old, was seriously dehydrated and seemed about to pass out. As humanitarian volunteers gave him first aid, the child's parents explained that the family had walked for eight hours through the desert.

The journey was challenging– they evaded snakes and mountain lions– but staying in their native Mexico was not an option.

The family owns an auto repair shop in the southern state of Michoacán, where they were extorted and feared for their lives.

The mother, Jazmin Mora, says the family first fled to Tijuana, hoping to make it to the United States where they have family. But after just one month in the Mexican border city, they encountered violence there too, so they decided to try to cross.

A mattress at the southern border in Jacumba Hot Springs, California, on June 24, 2024.
Zaydee Sanchez for NPR /
A mattress at the southern border in Jacumba Hot Springs, California, on June 24, 2024.
Jazmin Mora puts a cold patch on her forehead to cool down as she and her family wait for border patrol agents in Jacumba Hot Springs, California on June 24, 2024.
Zaydee Sanchez for NPR /
Jazmin Mora puts a cold patch on her forehead to cool down as she and her family wait for border patrol agents in Jacumba Hot Springs, California on June 24, 2024.
A border patrol agent approaches the informal migrant camp in Jacumba Hot Springs, California, as a child washes her hands on June 24, 2024.
Zaydee Sanchez for NPR /
A border patrol agent approaches the informal migrant camp in Jacumba Hot Springs, California, as a child washes her hands on June 24, 2024.

“We moved around to several other places, but the reality is all Mexico is unsafe for everybody,” said Mora.

Her family’s story embodies what immigration analysts have told NPR about the newer border measures: deterrence policies alone do not work to curtail undocumented immigration in the long run.

Implications for the U.S. presidential election

Although the Biden administration touts these policies as a success, migrants continue to arrive at the border, although they stay on the Mexican side to ‘wait and see’ when to cross.

The announcement of lower numbers of border encounters and higher numbers of removals comes just before the first presidential debate on Thursday, in which immigration is expected to be front and center.

Far away from the politics of Washington D.C., neither migrants nor the locals had much to say about the border policies. They told NPR they see it as politics as usual –no real, lasting solutions.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Jasmine Garsd
Jasmine Garsd is an Argentine-American journalist living in New York. She is currently NPR's Criminal Justice correspondent and the host of The Last Cup. She started her career as the co-host of Alt.Latino, an NPR show about Latin music. Throughout her reporting career she's focused extensively on women's issues and immigrant communities in America. She's currently writing a book of stories about women she's met throughout her travels.