Unlawful entries to U.S from Colombia surge in recent months

Customs and Border Protection / Hand-out

During all of 2021, as specific COVID-19 restrictions continued in Colombia and air connectivity with Central America was limited, 6,602 Colombians were arrested and/or expelled by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the Southwest Land Border with Mexico.

Even though the monthly numbers average near 900 of Colombians seeking asylum stateside, compared with the tidal waves of migrants heading north from Central American nations, Haiti, Cuba and Venezuela, the monthly numbers were considered low.

But as of January this year, unlawful immigration from Colombia began to surge, with 9,608 nationals arrested or processed in February at the southern border, 15,882 in March, and – according to the most recent data from CBP – 12,837 in April.

April’s number marks an increase of 4000% compared to the 260 nationals who were detained by federal agents during the same time period last year.

While for many Colombians seeking asylum in the U.S the fasted option was to arrive on a visa and remain in the country until paperwork was presented to authorities by immigration lawyers, the mass migration witnessed last year by mostly Haitians crossing the treacherous Darien Gap, also included Colombians and other nationals from South America. However, in the CBP’s most recent report, Colombians are taking advantage of frequent air connectivity between the country and Mexico City and Cancun, before taking a bus to the border near Yuma, Arizona, and Del Rio, Texas.

The rise in illegal immigration over recent months comes as the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that it will stop authorizing Title 42 on May 23. Under Title 42, the U.S could expel any illegal alien on grounds of protecting U.S public health. Title 42 is a World War II-era health order that was reinstated by the Trump administration.

With the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S, in March 2020, former CDC director Robert Redfield invoked the measure stating: “There is a serious danger of the introduction of COVID-19 into the land (ports of entry) and Border Patrol stations at or near the United States borders with Canada and Mexico, and into the interior of the country as a whole, because COVID-19 exists in Canada, Mexico, and the other countries of origin of persons who migrate to the United States across the United States land borders with Canada and Mexico.”

Migrants arrested at the U.S southern border could be expelled by federal agents from the country within two hours without a record of their removal. The lack of a record resulted in many asylum seekers turning around in Mexico and attempting to re-enter the U.S via different land routes.

With pandemic restrictions lifted across Central and South America, Title 42 will be replaced with the long-standing immigration regulation Title 8, and which allows migrants to show credible reasons for not returning to their country of origin, and present a case for staying in the United States.

According to a March 24 CBS news report, despite an expulsion flight to Colombia of 20 citizens, and justified under Title 42, “the vast majority of Colombian migrants were allowed to stay and seek asylum in the U.S.”

One of many reasons attributed to the increase in illegal Colombian immigration is the lifting of visa restrictions for citizens wanting to enter Mexico as tourists. Last month, Mexico introduced a special traveler’s permit card for all Colombians boarding Mexico-bound flights. Along with the increase in encounters with CBP agents at U.S entry points, the agency also confirmed in its April Operational Update, an increase of 37% in drug seizures for the same month, including cocaine (up 96%), methamphetamine (20%), heroin (138%) and fentanyl (23%).

“The fact is that our borders are not open, and we will continue to remove those who enter our country unlawfully and have no legal basis to stay. While we will likely see an increase in encounters after the CDC’s Title 42 public health order ends, I have a great degree of confidence that the dedicated men and women of CBP will meet this challenge,” stated CBP commissioner Chris Magnus.

Colombians applying for a first-time entry visa to the U.S. face wait times of up to two years. For visa renewals (including B1/B2), the processing time is less than six months.