WASHINGTON (TND) — A record-high in arrests over a year at the southwestern border has prompted renewed criticism of the Biden administration’s immigration policies from Republican lawmakers ahead of the November midterms.
Migrants who were stopped at the border increased slightly from 199,976 in July to 203,598 times in August, a 1.8% increase. Compared to the year prior, it was a 4.7% drop.
U.S. authorities have stopped migrants over 2.1 million times so far through the 2022 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. It was the first time that number went above 2 million and a 39% increase from the year before.
Republicans, who are hoping to use immigration as a key issue heading into November’s midterm elections, were quick to jump on the Biden administration and Democrats for the high totals.
“Orderly, legal immigration is part of what makes America strong. Anarchy and open borders makes us weak,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a speech on the Senate floor this week. “There’s nothing compassionate or humane about the border crisis that Democrats’ mixed signals and failed policies have unleashed.”
The Biden administration noted that along with a surge in encounters at the border, expulsions were also at an all-time high of 1.3 million.
“Republicans claim that they that it's an open border, but that's not the case. If there was an open border, we would not know — we wouldn't have any numbers,” said Ernesto Castaneda, associate professor at American University and director of the Immigration Lab.
The number of border crossings has gone up, though experts have at least partially attributed that to repeat crossers who are expelled under Title 42 and then come back to seek asylum.
“People from Central America from Mexico are being sent back right away with Title 42, so they’ll try again a month later, a week later, a few days later, they're gonna be counted there,” Castaneda said. “It's way inflated.”
CBP data showed a continuing shift in where people seeking asylum are coming from. Venezuelans became the second-largest nationality among migrants crossing the border illegally last month, where there was a 43% increase.
People from Nicaragua and Cuba are also coming to the border at a higher rate. Officials reported a 175% increase in border encounters with people from Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua.
“Failing communist regimes in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba are driving a new wave of migration across the Western Hemisphere, including the recent increase in encounters at the southwest U.S. border,” said CBP commissioner Chris Magnus.
The U.S. does not have diplomatic relationships with those three countries, which makes it more difficult for authorities to send people back to their native countries.
Encounters with people Mexico and Central America were down from 43% from last year, CBP said.
Both parties blame each other for a lack of movement on improving the nation’s immigration system. The White House has proposed an immigration overhaul, which has been met with resistance by Republicans in Congress. Democrats have also moved little to appease Republican attempts at working out some form of immigration legislation.
The result has been a political fight between the two parties with limited movement to improve the nation’s immigration laws or efficiency of the existing system.
“It's self-defeating for the country,” Castaneda said. “There needs to be a different way that we talk and think about migration so we can come up with a smart, fair, legal way for people to come in and do what they what they need to do to work, study, reunite with their family members.”
The situation at the border has been put in the spotlight recently after Republican Govs. Greg Abbott of Texas and Ron DeSantis of Florida have sent undocumented immigrants to Democratic areas that are designated “sanctuary cities” like Washington and Martha’s Vineyard.
"This isn’t about border security this is about releasing them out of the facilities as fast as possible," former Acting Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Mark Morgan said in an interview with The National Desk. "Sometimes, 10 to 12 hours after they’re apprehended, they’re released and where are they released to? The overwhelming majority are local communities, local towns along the border and they're overwhelmed."
Republicans hope to make immigration a leading issue in the November elections, as they tend to get higher marks on the issue from voters. In an NBC poll released this week, 56% of respondents said they trusted Republicans to deal with border security, compared to just 20% of Democrats. The GOP also had an advantage on immigration, 46% to 29%.
Whether Republicans can get enough people to vote with immigration as a primary issue may be a more difficult challenge.
Immigration and the situation at the border were the fourth-most important issue to voters in the NBC poll, behind jobs and the economy, cost of living and threats to democracy.