By Rosa Flores, Sara Weisfeldt, Emma Tucker and Macie Goldfarb, CNN
(CNN) — Mexico has made an agreement with the United States to deport migrants from its border cities to their home countries and take several actions to deter migrants as part of a new effort to combat the recent surge in border crossings.
Mexican officials met with US Customs and Border Protection officials on Friday in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico – across the border from El Paso, Texas – following the recent spike in illegal crossings into the US that temporarily closed an international bridge and paused Mexico’s main cargo train system.
As part of the agreement, Mexico agreed to “depressurize” its northern cities, which border the El Paso, San Diego and Eagle Pass, Texas, where the mayor has declared a state of emergency. They will also implement more than a dozen actions to prevent migrants from risking their lives by using the railway system to reach the US-Mexico border, according to Mexico’s National Migration Institute.
Migrant crossings along the US-Mexico border are rising, surpassing 8,600 over a 24-hour period this week, according to a Department of Homeland Security official. That’s up from around 3,500 daily border arrests after the expiration of Title 42 in May triggered new consequences for those who cross the border illegally. There were more than 8,000 apprehensions on Monday.
Non-profits and officials in border communities on both sides of the US-Mexico line, from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, say the current spike in migration could be driven by misinformation and an increase in kidnappings in Mexico, among other things.
The busiest sectors are Del Rio, El Paso, Lower Rio Grande Valley and Tucson; each facing more than 1,000 encounters over the last 24 hours, according to the official. Eagle Pass is in the Del Rio sector.
About 6,500 migrants are in custody in El Paso alone, which “only has so many resources,” Mayor Oscar Leeser said at the news conference Saturday.
“We have come to what we look at (as) a breaking point right now,” the mayor said.
An overflow shelter in the northeast part of the city planned to open its doors Saturday evening as the city faces an unprecedented surge of migrants crossing the southern US border, Deputy City Manager Mario D’Agostino said in a news conference.
The shelter, which will operate out of the Nations Tobin Recreation Center, has been prepped over the “last couple weeks,” D’Agostino said. The facility can hold about 400 people.
El Paso is receiving more than 2,000 additional migrants every day, D’Agostino said, and the city is expecting a “large influx” over the next few days.
The US Department of Defense has been ramping up resources at the border, including an announcement by Department of Homeland Security officials Wednesday it was sending at least 800 new active-duty personnel to join the 2,500 National Guard members already serving.
Mexico’s top diplomat pointed out that her country is dealing with its own challenges due to the recent spike: Mexico is receiving about 6,000 migrants daily at its own southern border, half of whom are from Central American countries, Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs Alicia Bárcena said at a news conference at the UN on Friday.
On one day last week, about 11,000 migrants reached the Mexican border with the US, Bárcena said, announcing that Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador wants to meet US President Joe Biden in Washington in November to discuss migration, along with drugs and firearms trafficking.
Mexico agrees to take 15 actions
Friday’s meeting was attended by Customs and Border Protection’s Acting Commissioner Troy Miller, the commissioner of Mexico’s National Migration Institute, the governor of the Mexican state of Chihuahua, members of Mexico’s national defense and national guard and representatives of Ferromex, a Mexican railroad operator, according to the institute.
Mexican officials vowed to carry out a series of 15 actions as part of the agreement, some in coordination with Customs and Border Protection and Ferromex, which includes deporting migrants to their home countries by land and air.
The country said it will carry out negotiations with the governments of Venezuela, Brazil, Nicaragua, Colombia and Cuba to confirm receipt of their citizens deported from the US-Mexico border. It will also allow US border patrol agents to expel migrants through the Ciudad Juárez international bridge, which connects to El Paso.
Miller “urged coordination of efforts to diminish surging irregular migration, and continuation of lawful trade and travel while reiterating the need for coordinated engagement – to include mirrored patrols with local Mexican law enforcement agencies,” US Customs and Border Protection said in a statement later Sunday.
“We are continuing to work closely with our partners in Mexico to increase security and address irregular migration along our shared border,” Miller said in a statement. “The United States and Mexico remain committed to stemming the flow of irregular migration driven by unscrupulous smugglers, while maintaining access to lawful pathways.”
Other terms of the agreement include submitting a daily report of the number of migrants on the train system to Customs and Border Protection’s El Paso sector, establishing checkpoints along the Ferromex rail route and conducting interventions on railways and highways, according to Mexico’s National Migration Institute.
The institute said Mexico had deported more than 788,000 migrants to their home countries from January 1 to September.
The agreed-upon actions by Mexican officials raise questions about the country doing work typically designated for the US – from the south of the border – to manage the influx of migrants in recent weeks, which have has strained federal resources and overwhelmed already-crowded facilities, CNN previously reported.
Many who leave their homes for the United States face long and dangerous treks in hopes of finding better, safer lives. Some may flee violence, while others may immigrate for economic opportunities or to reunite with family, experts say. Deteriorating conditions in Latin America exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic also have contributed to the influx of migrants into the US.
Before the agreement with Mexico was announced, Ariel Ruiz Soto, a senior policy analyst at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute in Washington, told CNN last week that the number of border crossings was likely to increase “unless Mexico increases enforcement or something else happens in the region.”
But even increased deportations from Mexico are unlikely to impact one factor Ruiz said has been behind the recent increase in border crossings. Growing violence in certain regions of Mexico has fueled more migration, Ruiz said, noting that the number of Mexican families coming to the border and likely seeking asylum had “increased notably.”
In July 2022, US Customs and Border Protection figures indicate 4,000 Mexican family encounters at the border. A year later, the number had more than quadrupled, reaching nearly 22,000.
This isn’t the first time Mexico has agreed to help the US with immigration enforcement.
In 2019, experts said Mexico’s massive deployment of national guard troops had played a major role in blocking migrants’ efforts to reach the border.
What’s driving the surge?
Border Patrol’s top cop said Sunday that smugglers are to blame for the latest migrant surge.
“Smugglers are illegally crossing these big groups for financial gain & using them as a distraction to run deadly narcotics and violent criminals into the U.S,” US Border Patrol Chief Jason Owens said in a post on social media.
Department of Homeland Security officials who last week announced a ramping up of resources to the border gave no clear explanation for what could be fueling the latest surge and said they’re still examining the specific reasons.
In McAllen, Texas, about 600 migrants per day were released to non-profit organizations by Border Patrol last week, compared to about 400 per day last month, according to Sister Norma Pimentel, the executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.
Pimentel said the sudden increase in migrants crossing between ports of entry could be due, in part, to an increase in kidnappings, threats and extortion in the Mexican towns of Matamoros and Reynosa.
“It’s happening in very high numbers,” Pimentel told CNN. “Instead of waiting for their CBP One appointment, they’re choosing to enter due to fear for their lives.”
The migrants arriving at the shelter are mostly from Honduras, but also include people from Ecuador, Colombia, Cuba and Venezuela, Pimentel said.
In nearby Matamoros, Mexico, across the border from Brownsville, Texas, about 4,500 migrants are waiting in shelters and encampments, Glady Edith Cañas, who runs the non-profit Ayudandoles a Triunfar, told CNN.
Cañas says misinformation, which can spread very quickly among migrant networks, has been pushing some migrants to cross between ports of entry.
Those who cross the border and are processed by US border authorities and released into American cities send videos to migrants waiting in Mexico, telling them that they’ve been “allowed” into the country, she said.
“The migrants fill with hope,” Cañas said. “The information spreads so quickly that they’ve been processed at the border with Matamoros, and they cross the river, exposing their lives.”
Across the border from San Diego, in Tijuana, Mexico, about 5,500 migrants are waiting in shelters in the city, according to Enrique Lucero, the city’s director of migrant affairs.
Like Cañas, Lucero says migrants get desperate and cross illegally due to misinformation that spreads from migrant families who have been given parole, a form of temporary relief, by immigration officials.
Eagle Pass, Texas, which has been the most recent flashpoint on the southern border, has seen thousands of migrants cross the border illegally in a single day on several occasions last week.
For the one non-profit that works with migrants in the small town, that meant that the number of migrants dropped off by border authorities grew from 300 per day to 500 or even 900 per day, according to Valeria Wheeler, the executive director of Mission Border Hope.
Wheeler told CNN the majority of the migrants were Venezuelans and stayed in town for about one night. And, she says, she’s expecting the increased number of migrants entering the country to continue this week.
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CNN’s Catherine E. Shoichet, Priscilla Alvarez and Ed Lavandera contributed to this report.