The discussion of migrants arriving to the United States in the last several years has primarily focused on migration from the Northern Triangle of Central America and Mexico to the southern border, with little attention to migrants arriving from other countries. Yet, so far in fiscal year 2021, the most dramatic increases in migrant arrivals are from countries in Central Europe, South America, and the Caribbean. Last week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection released their June 2021 data that includes information concerning the citizenship of migrants arriving to the United States at both its northern and southern borders.1
Even though migrants from Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries make up nearly 75% of the encounters so far in FY2021, they are not the only countries contributing to the record-setting number of migrant encounters. Figure 1 shows the 10 countries with the most encounters by CBP (persons who are inadmissible at entry or encountered between the ports of entry) in FY2020 and fiscal year-to-date 2021. Most notably, 54,543 migrants encountered in FYTD2021 were from Ecuador, compared to just 10,241 by this same time in FY2020. Brazil has also increased its share of migrants arriving to the U.S. this year with 29,492 encounters compared to 8,749 in FYTD2020. This is more than three times the number of migrant encounters Brazilians had in all of FY2020. Earlier this year, encounters with Cuban migrants rapidly increased, hitting a peak in March of 5,716. While the number of Cuban encounters to the U.S. has steadily decreased since then, monthly encounters are still significantly higher than they were in FY2020.
While the top-10 origination countries in Figure 1 provide a clear picture of the border dynamics, it is also important to note the countries that have seen the biggest increases in arrivals. As shown in Figure 2, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Haiti make up the fastest-growing migrant-sending countries between June 2020 and June 2021.
Encounters with migrants from Venezuela increased 13,951% between June 2020 and June 2021. In comparison, Mexican migrant encounters only increased by 137% in that same time period. This influx of Venezuelan migrants comes following a massive exodus of Venezuelans to other countries in South America over the last few years. In response to the growing humanitarian crisis and many years of lobbying, the United States granted temporary protected status (TPS) to Venezuelans currently present in the U.S. in early March 2021.
Migrants from Brazil are the second fastest growing population. In June 2020, 80 Brazilians were encountered by CBP. In June 2021, 6,678 Brazilians were encountered—a marked 8,248% increase. This increase correlates strongly with Brazil’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 data, Brazil has recorded the world’s second highest COVID-19 death toll, and as of July 2021 surpassed 19 million confirmed cases. Reports have referred to these Brazilian migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border as pandemic refugees.
In addition, between June 2020 and June 2021, the number of encounters of Haitian migrants grew by 2,906%, making them the fifth fastest growing population. Many Haitians moved to Latin America after the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and are now fleeing once again—this time to the United States—after facing racism and poverty in Latin America. Recently, the Biden administration announced it would grant TPS to Haitians living temporarily in the United States after being displaced by the 2010 earthquake. On July 7, 2021, Haiti President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated, leaving the political stability of the country in doubt.
Another trend to follow are the ways in which different migrant groups attempt to enter the United States. The methods of transit used by migrants may give insight into the kind of information they are receiving about the U.S. border or tactics of smuggling operations.
For example, immigrants from Romania are shifting their preferred route to attempt entering the United States. In FY2020, 1,486 Romanian migrants were encountered by the United States nationwide; only 19% of those migrants were encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border. In FYTD2021, 4,369 Romanian migrants have been encountered nationwide, and a significant 81% of those encounters occurred at the southern border.
When migration trends shift so drastically, it could mean smuggling operations have discovered a new pathway crossing the border. In August 2020, Luigi Cristinel Popescu was extradited to the United States for potentially leading an international alien smuggling network responsible for smuggling thousands of Romanians into the United States. Popescu was working with numerous co-conspirators around the world and had allegedly been the leader of the organization for nearly seven years.
While the volume of migrants arriving to the United States from countries like Venezuela, Brazil, and Haiti are a fraction of those coming from Mexico or the Northern Triangle region, they are nevertheless growing at rapid rates. Monitoring these trends is integral to ensuring that CBP can address and respond effectively.
Even though the Department of Homeland Security provides detailed information on CBP encounters from 20 different countries, there is a need for further data transparency. In 2020, the undefined “Other” category represented the second largest category of migrant encounters. With more than double the number of encounters in June 2021 than were a year ago, the need for more information regarding these migrants’ origins is apparent.
To date, there have been 37,908 nationwide encounters in FY2021 from this unspecified “other” group, which cannot be traced in any meaningful way. It is imperative to track this growing trend so that CBP can be proactive, rather than reactive, in managing migration to the United States.
1 For the purposes of this blog, we used nationwide CBP data, rather than just focusing on encounter data from the southwest border.