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Illegal Border Crossings Rise As Some People Try Multiple Times

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The number of migrants getting caught trying to cross illegally into the U.S. from Mexico is going up. That's partly because migrants believe that border security is looser under the Biden administration than it was under the Trump administration. But there's actually another factor at play. As NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, the numbers are higher because so many are trying to cross multiple times.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Eddie Barahona and Eduardo Jose Martinez, both in their early 20s, left Honduras nearly two months ago. Threatened and extorted by gangs, they fled north. They took buses and trains until they reached the Mexican border city of Tijuana. They then had to get to the border fence located in one of the city's poor, dusty neighborhoods.

EDDIE BARAHONA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "So we ordered an Uber," says Barahona. The $7 ride took them to the eastern edge of the city where the border wall ends. Barona says they had barely stepped onto U.S. soil when Customs and Border Protection agents caught them.

BARAHONA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "As quickly as they got us, they threw us back." Barahona says in less than an hour, agents had snapped their photos, took their fingerprints and return them to Mexico. Usually, migrants are processed at a detention facility, some held for several days. Martinez says he's going to try again.

BARAHONA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: He says he needs a job in the U.S. to support his wife and two small kids. This rapid return to Mexico went into effect last March. Citing COVID concerns, the Trump administration began allowing agents to process illegal crossers in the field and avoid detention facilities. More than 90% of those caught at the border are quickly expelled to Mexico. So many of them are undeterred and just try to cross again. Father Pat Murphy, who runs the Casa Migrante (ph) shelter here in Tijuana, says more migrants have been showing up at his door in recent weeks.

PAT MURPHY: Oh, I think they're enamored with Joe Biden and think he's going to open the door, like, tomorrow. They think, you know, Trump is gone. Everything returns to normal.

KAHN: President Biden did announce that as many as 25,000 migrants who were sent back to Mexico to wait out the U.S. asylum claims could now enter the U.S. But the border is not wide open. Meanwhile, the Trump-era expulsions continue. Andrew Selee of the Washington, D.C.-based Migration Policy Institute says the migrants no longer face any consequences for their repeated attempts to cross. Previously, they could face jail time.

ANDREW SELEE: They are trying multiple times, sometimes 10 or 12 times, to get across the border with limited turnaround, right? I mean, it's a couple hours for turnaround. You're sent back and maybe wait until the next day, and they go across again.

KAHN: According to CBP, Customs and Border Protection, 85% of those apprehended in the past four months were single adult men, mostly from Mexico. And nearly 40% of those caught had tried to get across more than once. CBP declined NPR's multiple interview requests.

On a recent windy and rainy morning, a group of five Mexican men are released into Tijuana from a U.S. CBP building at the border.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: One says this was his sixth attempt to cross the border. Another said he tried 10 times. They declined to be identified, worried about their security. They can't find work. And the pandemic has battered Mexico's economy. A government agency recently warned that nearly 10 million Mexicans could fall into poverty. The men head downtown to one of Tijuana's cheap hotels.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Since U.S. agents sent them back so fast, he says, they'll go get some sleep, then turn around and try again.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Tijuana. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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