US border arrests ease in January after new Biden restrictions – sources

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By Ted Hesson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of migrants caught illegally crossing the US-Mexico border in January plummeted amid a seasonal slowdown and the introduction of new restrictions imposed by US President Joe Biden, a tenuous reprieve as he struggles with record crossings.

US Border Patrol agents arrested an average of about 4,000 migrants a day in January, three US officials told Reuters this week. That’s less than an average of about 7,400 a day in the week leading up to Christmas, one of the officials said.

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At the current rate, border arrests could be the lowest since February 2021, a month after Biden took office. But whether the trend will continue for the rest of the month, let alone beyond, remains unclear.

The drop comes after another near-record month of detentions. In December, Border Patrol agents made more than 221,000 arrests at the US-Mexico border, according to US Customs and Border Protection data released Friday.

Biden, a Democrat who plans to run for re-election in 2024, earlier this month expanded COVID-related restrictions allowing migrants detained at the U.S.-Mexico border to be quickly deported back to Mexico.

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Known as Title 42, the restrictions previously applied to Mexicans, some Central Americans and Venezuelans and were extended to Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans after Mexico agreed to accept those nationalities.

At the same time, the Biden administration launched a new humanitarian entry program for 30,000 Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans per month if they have US sponsors and enter by air.

“The process we have created is secure, fast and costs only the price of a commercial airline ticket,” said a Biden administration official. “Compared to the thousands of dollars that smugglers charge migrants for a dangerous journey, the choice is clear.”

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Several US officials said border arrests typically drop around the end of the year due to holidays, which likely contributed to the January drop-off.

CBP did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Ted Hesson; editing by Mary Milliken and Sandra Maler)

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