The number of people crossing the perilous Darien Gap linking Panama and Colombia has hit a record high of 400,000 in the year to September, official data shows, as migration has intensified near Texas and California border points, despite efforts by the White House to curb the flow.
Over 402,000 have crossed perilous jungle this year, nearly twice the 2022 total
The number of people crossing the perilous Darien Gap linking Panama and Colombia has hit a record high of 400,000 in the year to September, official data showed, as migration has intensified near Texas and California border points, despite efforts by the White House to curb the flow.
More than half of those migrants were children and babies, Panama’s security ministry said in a statement, adding that September alone saw the number of crossings increase by a fifth compared to the previous month.
The year-to-date figure of 402,300 migrants is almost double the number for the whole of 2022. The United Nations had estimated in April that the number of migrants for the entire year would be 400,000.
Most of the migrants traversing the dangerous stretch of jungle are Venezuelans, with others from Ecuador, Haiti and other countries, Panama has said.
Canada’s ambassador to Panama, on Aug. 30:
Together with Canada’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Mr. Bob Rae in Darien 🇵🇦. We witnessed the heartbreaking crisis of record numbers of migrants risking it all in search of hope and security for themselves and their families. @BobRae48 @CanadaFP pic.twitter.com/F856eKfGM9
Bob Rae, Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations, said earlier this week that the situation in Panama is representative of an urgent crisis of displaced persons and irregular migration being played out in several regions around the globe. Rae visited the Darien Gap last month at the invitation of the Panamanian government.
“The sheer number of people who are crossing and on this journey is shocking, and it has to be seen in a much broader light,” Rae said while addressing the UN General Assembly on Wednesday.
Mexico’s president calls for migration summit
Regional leaders are also grappling with the issue.
Costa Rica declared a state of emergency earlier this week, and its President Rodrigo Chaves said he would visit the Darien Gap in the coming days.
WATCH l Migrants linger for months in Mexico, or make dangerous river crossing:
Texas town overwhelmed by migrants declares state of emergency
Eagle Pass, Texas, declared a state of emergency after it was overwhelmed by thousands of people who illegally crossed the border from Mexico.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Wednesday called for a meeting of foreign ministers from 10 countries around Latin America to discuss migration.
“It’s not an issue that concerns only Mexico; it’s a structural issue and we need to face it this way,” said Lopez Obrador.
The numbers in the Darien Gap could be even greater, but some African and Cuban migrants and asylum seekers heading to the U.S. have told Reuters they were flying into Nicaragua to bypass it.
Panama announced earlier this month measures to stop the increase in migration, including deporting more people with criminal records and a decrease in the number of days some tourists are allowed to stay in the country.
These measures follow a two-month program launched in April by the U.S., Panama and Colombia to tackle undocumented immigration.
U.S. measures may have had limited effect
The United States in May rolled out a new policy to deter illegal crossings at its southern border points, including deporting migrants and banning re-entry for five years. The tougher measures drove the border-crossing rate down some 70 per cent initially, but the number of migrants arriving at the U.S. border with Mexico has surged recently, suggesting the early deterrent effect is wearing off.
The state of affairs represents a challenge for President Joe Biden heading into an election year.
Under the Biden administration’s new rule, migrants who have not sought an appointment to cross at a legal port of entry on a government-run cellphone app known as CBP One can face a higher bar to asylum and potentially swift deportation.
But a sharp increase in migrants has been notable near the border south of San Diego and in the Texas border towns of El Paso and Eagle Pass.
Many arrive following a long journey on top of cargo trains to the Mexican border city of Piedras Negras, across from Eagle Pass.
“We want a better future for our families,” Venezuelan migrant Johendry Chourio said Thursday from Piedras Negras. “We want to get ahead and we’re eager to work.”
Texas tries to deter river crossings
For the past several days, large groups of migrants have been wading across the Rio Grande river near a railroad bridge in Eagle Pass, undeterred by coils of razor wire laid along the banks. Once on U.S. soil, they waited in the hot sun to turn themselves in to U.S. border officials for processing.
Texas authorities led by Gov. Greg Abbott this summer placed massive floating buoys in the middle of the Rio Grande in an attempt to deter migrants, but earlier this month, a U.S. federal judge ordered the state to remove them to the embankment. Texas is appealing the ruling.
WATCH l Explaining the Rio Grande deterrence methods:
The saw-blade buoys keeping migrants out of Texas, explained | About That
A federal judge ordered Texas to remove the floating buoys placed along the Rio Grande to deter Mexican migrants from crossing. Andrew Chang explains what’s so threatening about these buoys — and whether they’re even effective.
Border Patrol Chief Jason Owens in a statement to reporters in Eagle Pass on Tuesday said the border starts in the middle of the Rio Grande, meaning migrants who have made it to the riverbank are already in the U.S.
“If they start getting swept away by the currents, if they start succumbing to the environment, the extreme temperatures, the humidity you all feel right now, and my men and women see that, they are not going to let somebody die or get into harm’s way,” Owens said. “That’s why they take the action.”
Earlier this month, nine migrants died trying cross the river.
With files from CBC News