The number of Brazilians arrested by US Border Patrol nationwide spiked this past year to around 18,000, up from approximately 1,600 the year prior, according to data provided by Customs and Border Protection and historical data.
The number of arrests far surpassed any year going back to 2007. The previous high was around 3,200 in fiscal year 2016, based on available data. The uptick in Brazilians entering the US illegally came amid an overall surge of migrants arriving at the southern border driven in large part by Central American migrant families heading to the US.
Acting Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli said Tuesday during a briefing at the State Department’s Foreign Press Center that the US is in “ongoing discussions” with Brazil over a growing number of its nationals arriving at the US-Mexico border.
During the first two months of fiscal year 2020 – October and November – just over 3,000 Brazilians were apprehended by Border Patrol, keeping on pace with last year’s numbers.
“We do have an open dialogue with them. Immigration issues continue to be discussed actively with Brazil. I will note that we are seeing more Brazilians show up at the southern border and that’s increasing the intensity on the US side to that part of the challenge that we’re facing right now,” Cuccinelli said in response to a question about whether the US plans to strike an agreement with Brazil similar to the one with Guatemala.
In recent months, the administration has been in discussions with the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to send migrants seeking asylum at the US-Mexico border to those countries. In November, the Trump administration sent the first migrant to Guatemala as part of its agreement with the country to accept asylum-seeking migrants from the US.
The policies rolled out this past year to deter migrants from approaching the US-Mexico border have largely excluded Brazilians.
Overall, more than 850,000 migrants were apprehended on the southern border in 2019. There was an increase in migrants from South American countries, particularly Brazil, as well as Ecuador and Venezuela, according to the new data.
In fiscal year 2019, Border Patrol apprehended 13,198 Ecuadorians, compared with 1,613 in 2018. There were 2,257 Venezuelans apprehended this past year, up from 126 the year prior.
Neither Customs and Border Protection nor the Department of Homeland Security provided additional details or analysis on the reason behind the spike in these arrests.
Paulo Sotero, director of the Wilson Center’s Brazil Institute, told CNN that Brazil has faced economic woes for years, with high unemployment and low growth, leading to an ongoing migration to the US.
“This is a country, even in times like this, when you have a leader talking about building walls, is the country most attractive to immigrants in the world, illegal or legal,” he said about migration to the US.
The 2018 Brazilian presidential election, which elevated Jair Bolsonaro, was an important event, said Sotero, given that the new government made unfulfilled promises about creating economic opportunities and opening up markets.
Bolsonaro’s win came amid a prolonged recession, rising crime rates and widespread corruption scandals and followed one of the most polarizing and violent political campaigns in Brazil’s history.
Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan said Monday that the administration’s focus last year was on addressing the surge in families from Northern Triangle countries. However, he said, the agency is also monitoring an increase in Mexican families, as well as arrivals of migrants from Brazil, Haiti and African countries.
Smugglers and cartels are “constantly modifying their approach to continue to make money and exploit migrants from everywhere,” said Morgan.
Morgan also said the agency was considering expanding the Migration Protection Protocols program, also known as “Remain in Mexico,” to additional demographic populations. The program allows the administration to send migrants to Mexico while they await their immigration court proceedings in the US.
Only migrants from Spanish-speaking countries have been enrolled in the program, therefore Brazilians have been excluded, according to a DHS source.
“We’re confident that the kind of same approach and same initiatives that we are applying with Northern Triangle countries’ families, specifically, that we’re going to be able to apply those same initiatives with other demographics as well,” said Morgan.
CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez contributed to this report.