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U.S. prepares to reopen southern border crossings as migrant numbers ease

Biden administration officials said Tuesday they will reopen several southern border crossings this week that have been closed as a result of the record number of migrants arriving to the United States.

The officials, who spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the White House, said tighter enforcement by Mexico and a holiday lull led to lower numbers of illegal entries over the past several days, after weeks of acute strains.

The announcement comes on the eve of a visit to the southern border by dozens of House Republicans led by Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.). The group is planning to visit Eagle Pass, Tex., where large crowds of migrants waded across the Rio Grande last month, spending chilly nights in an outdoor holding area set up by overstretched Border Patrol agents.

U.S. agents recorded nearly 250,000 illegal crossings along the southern border in December, the highest one-month total ever, according to preliminary Customs and Border Protection data obtained by The Washington Post.

The influx prompted CBP officials to close several legal border crossings in Texas, Arizona and California so that customs officers could assist the Border Patrol in processing the unauthorized migrants.

The closures, which sometimes apply to pedestrians and sometimes to vehicles, choke off cross-border travel and trade with Mexico. They have been used by both the Biden and Trump administrations in part to compel Mexican authorities to do more to intercept migrants streaming toward the United States aboard freight trains, buses and trucks.

CBP said it will reopen authorized crossings in Eagle Pass, Tex.; San Ysidro, Calif.; Nogales, Ariz.; and Lukeville, Ariz. Lukeville is a remote checkpoint in the same area where thousands of African migrants and families from Central America and Mexico have arrived in recent weeks through gaps in the border barrier opened by Mexican smuggling gangs using power tools.

“CBP will continue to prioritize our border security mission as necessary in response to this evolving situation,” the agency said in a statement Tuesday. “We continue to assess security situations, adjust our operational plans, and deploy resources to maximize enforcement efforts against those noncitizens who do not use lawful pathways or processes.”

Biden administration officials declined to say what specific measures Mexico has taken to reduce crossings, referring reporters to Mexican authorities. An official with Mexico’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to an inquiry.

Last week, Biden sent Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and White House homeland security adviser Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall to Mexico City to urge Mexican officials to tighten enforcement.

About 2,500 migrants were taken into custody by U.S. agents on New Year’s Day, according to one of the Biden officials who spoke to reporters Tuesday night, down from about 10,000 taken into custody per day in December. The official said crossings also dropped abruptly at holiday times during previous years, only to rebound in January.

The White House has asked Congress for nearly $14 billion in supplemental funds for the backlogged U.S. immigration system and emergency border operations, part of a $106 billion request for aid to Ukraine and Israel.

As part of the negotiations over that aid, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators has been weighing several measures sought by Republicans to curb border crossings by restricting access to the U.S. asylum system and expanding the government’s deportation authority, among other provisions.

Those discussions are due to resume this week, after a holiday break, with House Republicans, including Johnson, calling for stricter, more punitive measures that Biden officials and many Democrats say they will not accept.

Read more:

Portrait of a year in migration turmoil, with more uncertainty ahead

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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