More than 300,000 people were on track to cross the US-Mexico border in December without authorization and are being processed by American immigration officials, a tally that sets the latest monthly record, according to government figures obtained by CBS.
The number of crossings, averaging roughly 8,400 apprehensions a day by US border agents, comes amid urgent efforts by the Joe Biden White House to curb migrant flows that have become a domestic political liability for him as he seeks re-election in 2024.
In the first 28 days of December, border agents processed nearly 235,000 people without permission crossed the southern border in between ports of entry, alongside 50,000 who entered the country under an appointment system. Included in that number were nearly 96,000 parents traveling together with their children.
The previous monthly high in US-Mexico border crossings was in September, when the agency processed nearly 270,000.
Earlier in December, the White House had hinted it may accept new limits on asylum seekers as well as an expansion of detention and deportation efforts – a potential reversal of immigration liberalizations announced early in Biden’s presidency.
Mexico and Venezuela on Saturday announced that they had restarted repatriation flights of Venezuelans migrants in Mexico. That comes after a high-level meeting between US and Mexico officials aimed at curbing the flow while maintaining cross-border trade.
Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador said last week that he had received a request from Biden to discuss the issue. “He was worried about the situation on the border because of the unprecedented number of migrants arriving at the border,” López Obrador later said, according to the Associated Press. “He called me, saying we had to look for a solution together.”
A recent CBS poll found that immigration ranks second among concerns facing the country, behind inflation but ahead of concerns about the stability of the democratic system.
According to government figures, most people who entered the US without permission are released with court notices, without any asylum screenings. The immigration court system, with fewer than 800 immigration judges, has a backlog of 3m pending cases – or 4,500 for each judge, and it may take three years to clear.
A caravan of about 6,000 people was reportedly making its way north through Mexico toward the US, placing additional pressure on authorities. On Sunday’s political talkshows, the mayors of Chicago and Denver described the burden that the backlog of immigration cases was placing on their cities.
“This is clearly an international and federal crisis that local governments are being asked to subsidize, and this is clearly unsustainable,” Chicago mayor Brandon Johnson, a Democrat, told CBS’s Face the Nation.
The mayor placed blame on Texas’s Republican governor, Greg Abbott, whose administration is sending planes and buses of migrants to northern cities. Abbott, he said, “is determined to continue to sow seeds of chaos”.
In the same conversation, the Denver mayor, Mike Johnston, said his city had received 35,000 migrants in December who had been successfully integrated. “What we don’t want is people arriving at two in the morning at a city and [at] county buildings with women and children outside in 10-degree weather and no support,” he said.
Ohio congressman Mike Turner, chairman of the US House intelligence committee, told ABC’s This Week that White House action on the issue would have to come before he and his fellow Republicans moved on administration requests on Congress to approve a national security package that includes aid for Ukraine and Israel in their respective ongoing wars.
“We have cities across the country who are having … huge impacts, who are calling on the administration to address it,” Turner added.