McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Inside the largest migrant shelter in the Rio Grande Valley, there are a scant 300 to 400 asylum-seekers each day now, down from about 1,000 the shelter was helping daily a year ago.
The reason for the drop is a new Biden administration policy that is allowing Venezuelans to be expelled south of the border to Mexico, and a substantial uptick in migrants crossing at other parts of the border, especially in the neighboring Del Rio Sector.
New data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection reports that in Fiscal Year 2022, which ended in September, the Del Rio Sector had the most migrant land encounters on the entire Southwest border — surpassing the RGV Sector for the first time in recent memory.
There were 480,930 encounters with migrants in the Del Rio Sector — which includes the busy South Texas border cities of Eagle Pass, and Del Rio — an increase of 85% from Fiscal Year 2021.
Del Rio was where in September 2021, over 15,000 migrants — mostly Haitians — camped under an international bridge as they crossed readily from Ciudad Acuña, Mexico.
The RGV Sector was second with 468,121 land encounters in Fiscal Year 2022, which was a decrease of 15%, CBP reports.
Overall, border agents encountered 2.3 million migrants in Fiscal Year 2022, which is up 37% from 1.7 million in Fiscal Year 2021, CBP says.
Encounters include migrants who have crossed the border repeatedly.
But CBP officials defended the numbers saying their deterrence policies are working.
“While failing regimes in Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua continued to drive a new wave of migration across the Western Hemisphere, the number of Venezuelans arriving at the southern border decreased sharply nearly every day since we launched additional joint actions with Mexico to reduce irregular migration and create a more fair, orderly and safe process for people fleeing the humanitarian and economic crisis in their country,” CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus said in a statement.
However, that new policy didn’t take effect until Oct. 12, which is part of Fiscal Year 2023.
“Over the past week, the number of Venezuelans attempting to enter the country fell more than 80 percent compared to the week prior to the launch of the joint enforcement actions. While this early data is not reflected in the latest report, it confirms what we’ve said all along: when there is a lawful and orderly way to enter the country, individuals will be less likely to put their lives in the hands of smugglers and try to cross the border unlawfully,” Magnus said.
Under the new policy, Mexico has agreed to accept back Venezuelans who are expelled under Title 42 — the Trump-era public health order forbidding asylum seekers from illegally entering the United States in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, which runs the Humanitarian Respite Center, tells Border Report that their center has seen a significant drop in migrants since this new policy toward Venezuelans was enacted.
“The Venezuelans are now being sent back to Mexico through the port in Brownsville, (Texas)” Pimentel said, adding that federal flights that used to transport migrants to McAllen to process those who qualify for humanitarian parole have now stopped.
“We’re not seeing those lateral flights that had been being brought to the Rio Grande Valley that were coming from other areas to decompress the number of Venezuelans who were entering through like from say El Paso and Del Rio,” she said.
She says 200 Venezuelans per day are being sent south of the border to Matamoros, Mexico since the new policy began Oct. 12.
Because the United States does not have formal relations with the government of Venezuela, migrants who fled the embattled South American country were allowed to stay in the United States pending immigration court outcomes. However, only 24,000 Venezuelans will now be considered for asylum and they must apply prior to arriving.
That means those who have already crossed the Southwest border face extradition to Mexico.
Several non-governmental and faith-based organizations, such as Catholic Charities, are helping Venezuelan migrants who are sent back to Matamoros, she said.
But she doesn’t agree with the policy.
“Anyone who enters the United States irregularly between ports of entry will be sent back through Title 42. The border is closed. It has been closed since the previous administration and it continues to be closed,” Pimentel said.
“Venezuelans should be given a chance to process the fact that they’re refugees,” she said. “If they are not being able to be returned to their country then they should be given refugee status.”
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com