A record number of Colombians were detained for irregular entry into the United States in 2023. A total of 170,000 nationals were arrested, an increase of close to 30% compared to 2022, when 130,000 were arrested, and all this in the context of the migratory crisis that the United States has been experiencing in recent months, through its border with Mexico. Colombians were the fifth largest group of migrants apprehended at US borders, surpassed only by Mexicans, Guatemalans, Hondurans and Cubans.
The increase in Colombian migrants attempting to enter the United States in the last two years has been exponential. The previous figure for 2021, which until then was the highest ever recorded, reached 10,000 people, a far cry from the 170,000 of this year that has just ended. Colombians were the group that grew the most in terms of arrests in the last 24 months, with a jump of 1,700%.
Two years of record migration
The migration crisis in the United States has been a reality for several years, but the increase in the last two years has caused concern in the government. The year 2023 closes with more than three million migrants counted, an unprecedented number that exceeds the capacity of border agents and causes a multi-million dollar expense to the country. In this superlative increase of migrants, Colombians also play a prominent role, along with other citizens of Central American, Venezuelan or Caribbean origin.
The reasons for the phenomenon are the poverty and lack of opportunities that these people have in their countries of origin. Although President Biden’s policies on migration are more flexible than those of his predecessor, Donald Trump, the country’s fight against illegal migration continues. Dissent is growing in states governed by Democrats, Biden’s party, due to the cost of dealing with the huge numbers of migrants.
The US embassy in Colombia has recently confirmed the expulsion from the US of many people from Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Central America, on 30 flights to these destinations between December 11 and 13. In 2022, more than 72,000 deportations to more than 150 countries were made, with Colombia being one of the three territories with the most detainees.
In a press release issued by the US Department of Homeland Security, it was confirmed that people who did not have a legal basis to remain in the US were expelled, which meant thousands of migrants had to leave.
A global problem
The migration crisis facing the United States and Europe is already a global problem. In several countries of the European Union the massive arrival of migrants is fuelling the strong anti-immigration discourse of extreme right-wing parties, which are even achieving electoral victories as surprising as the one obtained in the Netherlands. In the United States, this crisis has led to the calling into question by many sectors, not only of the Republican opposition, of the more flexible policies of President Biden.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic, migration flows to the US have skyrocketed, and today represent a major challenge for the world’s leading economy. According to official data, more than 3.2 million people will be detained in the US for illegal entry by 2023. In addition to the humanitarian crisis, this represents an annual expenditure of $451 billion, according to a report by the House Homeland Security Committee.
In the nearly three years of President Joe Biden’s administration, the number of migrants across the southern border has exceeded eight million, according to reports from the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, two million more than the White House acknowledges.
Delays for asylum seekers
On average, millions of asylum seekers in the United States must wait 10 years to at least be heard or update their immigration status. Meanwhile, the backlog of immigration court cases continues to grow rapidly.
The crisis is such that New York City is struggling to find space to house thousands of migrants, while Immigration and Customs Enforcement has instructed asylum seekers to “come back by March 2033,” as Democratic legislator Henry Cuellar, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, told a recent hearing. In other cities, the wait is as long as four years, and appointments are being made for 2028.
All of this has provided political ammunition for the Republican opposition, which sees in these overwhelming numbers the failure of Biden’s immigration policies.
President Biden’s Immigration Programs Questioned
In fact, the immigration programs developed by the Biden Administration do not seem to be having the desired effect of ordering the migratory flow. Programs such as Humanitarian Parole for citizens from Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Haiti; Family Reunification, for migrants entering through the Mexican border; and Secure Mobility in countries such as Colombia, Costa Rica and Guatemala, have not stopped the arrival of irregular migrants at the southern border.
On the other hand, the repeated crises in the Darien Gap, in the rugged border between Colombia and Panama, with thousands of citizens from different countries trying to reach the United States walking hundreds of thousands of kilometers through different Central American countries, do not allow for optimism either. In fact, migration experts predict that 2024 will be even worse than the year that has just ended in terms of the arrival of illegal migrants to the United States.
This year the average of between 10,000 and 12,000 daily entries into the country is expected to be exceeded. Other measures, such as the closure of railroad crossings, have not only been ineffective, but have also had a very negative impact on the US economy. Migrants often board trains to reach the United States, but the closure of the two rail crossings could cause some $200 million in economic losses per day.
The migration crisis promises to be one of the hottest topics of the upcoming electoral campaign leading up to the presidential elections next November.