Border apprehensions hit yearly high as new migrant caravan gathers in Mexico

WASHINGTON — Apprehensions of undocumented migrants crossing the southern U.S. border passed 1.7 million in fiscal year 2021 to hit an all-time high, according to Customs and Border Protection data obtained by NBC News, as U.S. officials turn their attention to a huge new caravan of migrants in southern Mexico that may head north as soon as this weekend.

The caravan gathered in Tapachula, near the Mexico-Guatemala border, includes thousands of migrants fleeing Haiti, Venezuela, Cuba and other Latin American countries, two Department of Homeland Security officials said. Violent clashes with Mexican police have broken out as desperate migrants try to leave the camp and continue their journey. New images from Telemundo, NBCUniversal's Spanish-language network, show police meeting migrants with shields and beating them when they try to cross barriers.

The Mexican government is trying to keep the caravan from leaving Tapachula, but organizers of the group have pinned Saturday as the date to start traveling to the U.S.

A DHS official said the agency is keeping an eye on Tapachula, as well as other areas where large groups have massed, such as Necocli, a northern Colombia town where more than 20,000 migrants, many of them Haitian, are camping as they prepare to make their way to the U.S. border.

But, the official said, migrants might recalculate and decide not to journey further because of the forceful pushback by Mexican officials in Tapachula.

The official said the migrants may also be deterred by the U.S. response to the more than 30,000 Haitians who tried to cross into Del Rio, Texas, last month. More than 8,000 of them were turned back to Mexico, and more than 7,000 have been deported to Haiti.

The DHS official said migrants should now realize that traveling in large numbers decreases their odds of being able to enter the U.S.

By the end of the month, the Biden administration will have built an intelligence cell to share information within DHS about mass migrant movements like the Del Rio surge.

Overall, CBP encountered more than 192,000 undocumented migrants at the southwest border last month, a slight decrease from July and August, when crossings topped 200,000. But overall, the 2021 fiscal year, which ran from October through September, hit border crossing totals never seen before.

The Washington Post first reported that more than 190,000 migrants were apprehended crossing the border in September, for a fiscal year total of 1.7 million.

Over 100,000 of the migrants stopped by CBP last month were expelled from the U.S. without being able to claim asylum under a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authority known as Title 42 designed to restrict migration flows during the Covid pandemic. Immigration advocates have sued the Biden administration to stop the policy, arguing that it is being used to deny asylum-seekers their internationally guaranteed right to asylum hearings rather than to prevent the spread of Covid.

CORRECTION (Oct. 21, 2021, 6 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated the name of the government's primary health agency. It is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, not the Centers for Disease Control.