EL PASO, Texas (Border Patrol) – Within minutes of being expelled from the United States, Jairo, a Mexican man in his 20s, talks about attempting another run at the border.

“To them (the U.S. Border Patrol), it’s a game of cat and mouse. To us, it’s a dream being on the other side,” said Jairo, who was apprehended Wednesday night in Sunland Park, New Mexico after he and three other migrants jumped over the border wall.

While the recent surge of unaccompanied minors and migrant families from Central America has dominated the headlines, the fact is that Mexicans continue to account for the largest number of unauthorized crossings.

According to a March 15 Pew Research Center study, 42% of those apprehended at the southern border in February, were people of Mexican origin. That’s 13% more Mexicans than those who were coming over in May 2019, at the height of the previous surge. The combined number of migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras accounted for 46% of apprehensions in February, down from 78% in May 2019.

While the number of monthly apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border is approaching the levels of two years ago, the profile of those being apprehended is very different,” said the Pew study titled “Migrant apprehensions at U.S.-Mexico border are surging again.”

The study stems from CBP data, including figures released this week showing apprehensions or “encounters” with unauthorized migrants rose in February to levels not seen since June 2019.

“February’s apprehension total was far higher than the typical monthly figure in recent years, with the exception of a dramatic rise in 2019,” the Pew wrote.

The number and share of single adults – like Jairo — detained at the border has also increased dramatically.

Two Mexican nationals rest at the foot of the Paso del Norte International Bridge in Juarez, Mexico. They were part of a large group of migrants expelled from the United States under the CDC Title 42 rule to prevent cross-border spread of COVID-19. (photo Roberto Delgado/Special to Border Report)

Single adults accounted for 71% of all U.S.-Mexico border apprehensions in February, while people traveling in families and unaccompanied minors represented 20% and 10%, respectively. That stands in sharp contrast to May 2019, when people traveling in families accounted for 64% of the total and single adults and unaccompanied minors accounted for 28% and 9%, respectively.

Border experts say poverty exacerbated by COVID-19-related business closings and layoffs, as well as gang violence and recent hurricanes have fueled an increase in migration from Central America. Mexicans have also experienced economic loss during the pandemic, and drug cartel violence continues to rage in states like Guanajuato, Jalisco, Guerrero, Zacatecas, Tamaulipas and Chihuahua, among others.

Central Americans expelled to Mexico from El Paso under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Title 42 order have told KTSM they though it would be easier to cross the border and be allowed to remain in the United States under the Biden administration.

Mexicans might be under a similar impression.

Jairo said the bus that dropped him off at the Paso del Norte International Bridge on Thursday morning was transporting 50 to 60 migrants – mostly Mexicans — from a U.S. Border Patrol processing center. He said his was the second bus that left the detention center that morning.

“This is my second time. I will continue to cross until I make it. I feel it’s easier (with Biden) and with there being no court and no deportations (because of) the coronavirus. Most deportations are to Juarez, not the places (the migrants) come from,” the man from the state of Veracruz said.

Jairo said crossing the border illegally “is easy when you talk about it, when you plan it. But when you’re there it’s complicated. You feel the adrenaline, the emotion; you climb the wall but are worried the Border Patrol will see you.”

And while Jairo feels confident he will make it past the wall, the agents and other obstacles, he said he doesn’t recommend others attempt a clandestine crossing to the United States.

“Don’t try it. You suffer a lot. Last night, I jumped the wall and walked two hours in desert. We were tired and that’s why they caught us,” he said. “The sand makes your feet heavier. You worry about scorpions and snakes […] about falling off the wall.”

(Juarez freelance photojournalist Roberto Delgado contributed to this report.)

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