STORY: The number of U.S.-bound migrants who cross the dangerous jungle separating Panama and Colombia could rise to a record this year.
“In terms of the number of people crossing through Darien, it has been substantially higher. If that pace was to continue, we would see a record number of people crossing from Colombia into Panama, that are much, much higher than in 2022.”
Kelly Clements is the United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees. Her agency has been tracking migrants heading north through the crossing known as the Darien Gap. Government data from Panama show the number of Darien crossings increased six-fold during the first four months of this year.
The numbers have tapered recently, but Clements told Reuters this week the crises propelling the migration haven't let up.
“The last couple of days, there has definitely been a slowdown, in terms of the number of people crossing but the reasons that people are moving and the reasons people have, basically picked up their families, picked up their lives, and tried to rebuild elsewhere have not changed. There's still situations of violence, of persecution.... others that are seeking a better life, and those root causes need to be addressed.”
The forecast comes after Washington last week rolled out new regulations at the U.S.-Mexico border meant to deter illegal border-crossings.
U.S. officials said border patrol agents have seen a 50% drop in the number of migrants crossing the border since Thursday, when Biden's administration shifted to sweeping new asylum regulations.
But Kennji Kizuka, director for asylum policy at the International Rescue Committee, said the low traffic he saw on the ground in El Paso over the last week was hardly cause for celebration.
"Global displacement at the moment is at levels we haven't seen since the end of World War Two. There are millions of people on the move, including in the Americas region, and the fact that Title 42 ended with a whimper and that there weren't the great many crossings that some had feared, doesn't mean that the humanitarian need in the region has diminished. // These policies that try to block people from protection, that send them back to danger, that make them ineligible for asylum, just push the issue down the road."
The plan requires migrants to schedule an immigration appointment through an app or seek protection from countries they passed through on their way to the U.S. border.
If they don't, and are caught entering the U.S. illegally, they are not allowed to try again, even through legal means, for five years -- with prison terms for other violations.