The announcement comes on the eve of a visit to the southern border by dozens of House Republicans led by Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.). The group plans to visit Eagle Pass, Texas, where large crowds of migrants crossed the Rio Grande last month and spent cold nights in an open-air waiting area set up by overstretched Border Patrol agents.
U.S. agents recorded nearly 250,000 illegal crossings along the southern border in December, the highest single-month total ever recorded, according to preliminary Customs and Border Protection data obtained by The Washington Post.
The influx led CBP officials to close several legal border crossings in Texas, Arizona and California so that customs officials could help Border Patrol process unauthorized migrants.
The closures, which sometimes apply to pedestrians and sometimes to vehicles, stifle cross-border travel and commerce with Mexico. They have been used by the Biden and Trump administrations in part to force Mexican authorities to do more to intercept migrants heading to the United States aboard freight trains, buses and trucks.
CBP said it will reopen authorized crossings at Eagle Pass, Texas; San Ysidro, California; Walnut, Arizona; and Lukeville, Arizona. Lukeville is a remote checkpoint in the same area where thousands of African immigrants and families from Central America and Mexico have arrived in recent weeks through gaps in the border barrier opened by Mexican smuggling gangs using power tools.
“CBP will continue to prioritize our border security mission as necessary in response to this evolving situation,” the agency said in a statement Tuesday. “We continue to evaluate security situations, adjust our operational plans, and deploy resources to maximize law enforcement efforts against those non-citizens who do not utilize legal avenues or processes.”
Biden administration officials declined to say what specific steps Mexico has taken to reduce crossings, referring reporters to Mexican authorities. An official at Mexico’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a question.
Last week, Biden sent Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas and White House national security adviser Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall to Mexico City to urge Mexican officials to strengthen enforcement of the law.
About 2,500 migrants were detained by U.S. agents on New Year’s Day, according to one of the Biden officials who spoke to reporters Tuesday night, compared to about 10,000 detained. per day in December. The official said crossings also declined sharply around Christmas time during previous years, only to recover in January.
The White House has asked Congress for nearly $14 billion in supplemental funding for the backlogged U.S. immigration system and emergency border operations, part of a $106 billion request for aid to Ukraine and Israel.
As part of negotiations over that aid, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators has been weighing several measures sought by Republicans to curb border crossings by restricting access to the U.S. asylum system and expanding the government’s deportation authority, among other provisions.
Those discussions will resume this week, after a holiday recess, with House Republicans, including Johnson, calling for stricter, more punitive measures that Biden officials and many Democrats say they will not accept.