EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Unauthorized migration activity surged in May at the U.S.-Mexico border, and some observers attribute that to continued violence in Mexico.

A total of 23,118 unauthorized migrants were taken into custody in May compared to 16,966 in April, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported on Friday. That’s a 36% increase.

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Most detentions (82%) involved Mexican nationals; only 13% were from the Northern Triangle of Central America. That’s in sharp contrast to a year ago when 72% of the migrants were coming from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, while only 16% were from Mexico, according to CBP.

Detentions of unauthorized migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. The red line represents the current fiscal year. The orange line is last year’s trend. (CBP)

And in terms of raw numbers, the 23,000-plus new arrivals represent but a fraction of the 144,116 migrants who were either apprehended between ports of entry or presented themselves to request asylum in May 2019, at the height of the migrant surge from Central America, CBP stats show.

Most of last month’s apprehensions took place in between legal ports of entry. (CBP)

In general, unauthorized migration is way down across the border when you compare May 2019 to May 2020. Also, most new apprehensions are taking place in between ports of entry. During the migrant surge, thousands of migrants presented themselves at ports of entry to claim asylum.

However, the numbers are creeping up.

“What we have observed in the past month, month and a half is that some people who were part of the (Migrant Protection Protocols) program are getting desperate and trying to cross between ports of entry,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of El Paso’s Border Network for Human Rights.

More than 65,000 asylum seekers from Central America and elsewhere have been placed on MPP, also known as the “Remain in Mexico” program, and have languished in camps, shelters, or low-rent apartments in Mexican border towns with high levels of violence. With dwindling resources and U.S. court dates many months away, many of them have left, Mexican officials have told Border Report.

And since March, the COVID-19 pandemic has only added to their worries and desperation, advocates like Garcia said.

“Thousands of refugees are waiting under very difficult conditions and realizing that (U.S. authorities) have all but closed their avenue for asylum. Some of them have decided they will wait no longer,” Garcia said.

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But by far, most of the new arrivals are Mexicans, many fleeing unprecedented drug violence in their country.

“Violence in Mexico hasn’t stopped, even in the middle of the COVID-19 (pandemic). We have seen horrendous violence that continues to cause Mexicans to leave their homes,” Garcia said.

The aftermath of a drug-related shooting that left several people dead in the Mexican state of Coahuila. (AP photo)

Those Mexicans, in theory, could be claiming asylum based on the extreme violence and persecution suffered, Garcia said, adding that “unfortunately, the administration has closed avenues for these people to come here legally, so they are coming in this manner.”

CBP on Friday also reported sharp increases in drug seizures at the border, which appears consistent with increased drug violence being reported in Mexico.

Customs officers and Border Patrol agents seized double the amount of cocaine in May; 66% more methamphetamine; 35% more marijuana; and 11% more fentanyl than the previous month.

CBP Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan highlighted drugs and human-smuggling activity in making a case for construction of the border wall.

A segment of new border wall near Santa Teresa, New Mexico. (Border Report file photo)

“The ongoing construction of the border wall system is imperative for the safety and security of our nation’s Southwest border. Wherever we have built a new border wall system, drug- and human-smuggling activities have decreased,” Morgan said.

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