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Fewer migrants are crossing into Texas. Gov. Abbott is claiming credit.


Illegal border crossings into the United States have fallen 50 percent since the end of December, the month when historic numbers of migrants surged and dealt another blow to President Biden’s polling on immigration issues.

Border crossing trends also appear to be shifting. During January and so far this month, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials have seen entries fall even faster in Texas, as migrants head farther west to Arizona or California. While the latest CBP data show southern Arizona remains the busiest place for illegal entries, the San Diego area has surpassed Del Rio, Tex., for the second slot.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) is taking credit for the change. He says it’s the result of Operation Lone Star, his state-led campaign that has deployed thousands of police officers and National Guard troops to stop migrants and line the banks of the Rio Grande with razor wire.

In CBP’s Del Rio, Tex., sector, where border agents made 71,048 arrests in December, illegal entries plunged 76 percent in January.

“Our stiff resistance is working,” Abbott wrote on social media last week. “Texas will continue to hold the line.”

A divergence in migration patterns has significant political and humanitarian implications heading into the spring, when border crossings typically rebound. The governors of Arizona and California are both Democrats, and a major influx of migrants into those states would further strain cities and communities struggling to aid migrants. Arizona — a swing state — is crucial to Biden’s reelection campaign.

A Pew Research Center poll released last week found 80 percent of U.S. adults say the government is doing a bad job handling the border influx.

Smugglers in Mexico know mass crossings into remote areas of southern Arizona can quickly overwhelm CBP, leading to a higher likelihood that authorities will release migrants into the United States and not send them back.

Brandon Judd, the head of the union that represents Border Patrol agents, and which endorsed Donald Trump the past two elections, said the westward shift in crossings over the past several weeks is “strictly based upon what Gov. Abbott has done.”

“We’re seeing that huge shift to Tucson, to San Diego, and that’s simply because the cartels are going to do what they need to do to generate a profit,” Judd told News Nation. “When Gov. Abbott continues to put more pressure on them, it becomes a lot more difficult, so they start to expand their operations to other areas.”

The Biden administration is challenging several of Abbott’s border initiatives in federal court.

CBP and DHS officials say factors other than Abbott’s campaign are at play, and the trends they’re seeing are more the result of seasonal changes and tighter enforcement by the Mexican government, not Texas. Biden administration officials went to Mexico City in December seeking help and received new assurances from the government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

The Mexican immigration enforcement agency’s annual budget was depleted by the end of last year, leaving fewer highway checkpoints and rail yard patrols. Smugglers took advantage.

The Border Patrol recorded nearly 250,000 illegal entries in December, the highest one-month total ever. The two biggest hot spots were southern Arizona and the Del Rio area around Eagle Pass, Tex.

Many of the migrants who streamed into Texas were Venezuelans riding freight trains north to Eagle Pass, a major rail crossing into the United States. The Venezuelans, who have arrived in historic numbers over the past several years, often travel with little money and lack established family networks in the United States, leaving them more dependent on U.S. cities for shelter and assistance.

Mexico has cracked down on the rail lines since December, U.S. and Mexican officials say. That has led to a sharp drop in crossings around Eagle Pass.

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CBP said in a statement it is “working with our partners throughout the hemisphere and around the world to disrupt the criminal networks who take advantage of and profit from vulnerable migrants.” The operations have targeted smuggling organizations and worked with nations such as Panama that have become major transit points.

“Enhanced enforcement efforts by CBP personnel and our international partners, along with typical decreased encounters we see in January, contributed to a 50% drop in encounters along the southwest border between ports of entry in January from the prior month,” CBP said.

One DHS official skeptical of Abbott’s claims said the state’s security deployment had not significantly changed from December to January.

“It’s interesting to hear the state of Texas taking credit for the decrease when so much of its security presence in Eagle Pass now also existed in December,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.

“I struggle to understand how it was the federal government’s fault in December, but now it’s thanks to Texas that things are slower,” the official said.

Illegal crossings in February so far are on pace for numbers similar to January’s, when border agents recorded 124,220 encounters, according to two DHS officials familiar with the preliminary data.

One factor that has kept crossings relatively higher in Arizona is the number of migrants from Mexico crossing the southern border — about 60,000 in January, the latest CBP data show. Many are family groups from Mexican states such as Jalisco and Michoacán where cartel violence and extortion rackets are taking a toll on lime and avocado farms as well as other employers.

The route north to the United States for those migrants runs up Mexico’s west coast, where highways lead to Arizona and California border crossings. Mexican immigration officials do not have the authority to block Mexican citizens traveling in their own nation, and generally do not interfere.

The DHS officials said Mexican federal authorities also face greater dangers in the state of Sonora, south of Arizona, which has seen fierce clashes between rival criminals groups battling over smuggling routes.

In the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, typically one of the busiest areas for border crossings, CBP officials have seen a significant decline in entries. But Abbott’s forces are not as heavily deployed there, a sign that other factors are at work.

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Lt. Chris Olivarez, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, attributed the shift to increased enforcement by the Mexican government as well as his state’s efforts. About 500 migrants continue to cross into the Del Rio sector per day, he said, but almost none arrive to Shelby Park in Eagle Pass, where Abbott has deployed National Guard troops and denied access to the Border Patrol.

In December, when thousands of mostly Venezuelan migrants riding trains arrived to the area, the Border Patrol set up an outdoor processing center in Shelby Park. Olivarez said that site became a magnet for migrants seeking to surrender to U.S. authorities and claim a fear of persecution, hoping to get released and avoid deportation.

“There’s no processing center under the bridge because Border Patrol is gone,” Olivarez said. “The migrants are choosing to go to other areas.”

Next month, a new state law in Texas known as SB4 is due to take effect that would allow police to arrest, prosecute and jail anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. Civil rights groups and the Department of Justice are challenging SB4, arguing it would interfere with federal law, including the right to seek asylum.

The judge overseeing the case said he plans to issue a ruling before SB4 is due to take effect on March 5.

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