The effort of a community in Zacatecas to support migrants 3:14

(CNN) -- The number of migrant crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border is on the rise again. Why is this happening and what could happen now?

To better understand the situation, CNN spoke with Ariel Ruiz Soto, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington.

Ruiz says there's one key detail that many debates about migration and the U.S.-Mexico border often miss.

"In general," he says, "we don't look further south."

Ruiz says the number of border crossings is likely to continue to rise, noting that there are three reasons why this is happening right now:

1. There has been a sharp increase in Venezuelans crossing the Darien Gap

Data from the Panamanian government show that the number of migrants making the perilous crossing through the Darien Gap is on the rise, Ruiz says.


Many of those migrants come from Venezuela, where a socioeconomic crisis, fueled by the government of embattled President Nicolás Maduro and aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic and U.S. sanctions, has led one in four Venezuelans to flee the country since 2015.

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Data coming in from the Darien Gap, a treacherous crossing through the jungles of Panama and Colombia, has become an important tool for predicting what we can expect to happen at the U.S.-Mexico border. Ruiz describes it as a "harbinger for the future."

"No matter what the U.S. does today, in five weeks or so, we are likely to see the number of migrants coming from Venezuela grow by the same number or more," Ruiz says, "unless Mexico tightens enforcement or something else happens in the region."

2. Many migrants have been waiting in Mexico for months

U.S. policies at the border changed in May, when authorities lifted public health restrictions from the time of the COVID-19 pandemic and put in place new measures aimed at deterring illegal immigration. And the data immediately after seemed to indicate that the deterrent effect was working.

But while the number of arrests at the U.S.-Mexico border has declined, Ruiz says data from Mexican and Honduran officials tell a different story. Yes, the number of migrants crossing into the United States has declined. But migrants continued to make their way north through Central America and Mexico.

"People were still migrating," Ruiz says. "They just spent more time in Mexico."

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Many migrants were waiting "to understand what the policies of the Biden administration would be after Title 42," Ruiz says.

Both migrants and smugglers closely follow U.S. policies, Ruiz says, and many adjust their plans accordingly.

"If human traffickers realize that families make it through, more families will come," he says. And, by the same token, migrants are more likely to cross through areas of the border where they have heard that more people have been able to do so.

3. The number of Mexican migrants "has increased markedly"

Rising violence in certain regions of Mexico has also fueled increased migration.
"There are more Mexicans trying to come," Ruiz says.

U.S. government data shows more Mexican families arriving at the border, likely to ask for asylum, he says. In July 2022, for example, CBP figures indicate 4,000 encounters by authorities with Mexican families at the border. A year later, that number had more than quadrupled, reaching nearly 22,000.

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It's important to remember that a complicated mix of factors fuels migration in the Western Hemisphere, Ruiz says.

"These are the three levers that are in play right now. And regardless of what the Biden administration does today or tomorrow," he says, "the people who are already on the way are going to keep going, unless something else happens in the region."

-- CNN's Nick Paton Walsh, Natalie Gallon, Brice Lainé and Carlos Villalon contributed to this report.

U.S. Immigration