Since 2012, Border Patrol has apprehended a growing number of nationals from countries other than Mexico—almost all of them from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Last year, however, the agency saw threefold increases in apprehensions of Nicaraguans and Indians. These spikes may represent a widening awareness that America will accept people from around the world who come to the border to request asylum.
Figure 1 shows that from fiscal year 2017 to 2018, the number of Nicaraguans arrested by Border Patrol increased from 1,098 to 3,337—a 204 percent increase—and the number of Indians grew from 3,135 to 9,234—a 195 percent increase. That said, the two nationalities still represent a relatively small share of the total number of non-Mexican arrivals. The two nationalities grew from 2.4 percent of all other than Mexican apprehensions to 5 percent from 2017 to 2018. But the jumps are noteworthy as similar jumps in the Northern Triangle were a prelude to a snowball effect later.
India’s economy is growing, but its unemployment rate appears to be the highest in 45 years. Meanwhile, Nicaragua has suffered from political protests after the country lost aid from Venezuela, and its government had to cut benefits. The government has cracked down on the protests, killing hundreds of people. The Nicaraguan economy has hit a severe recession. Given its proximity to the United States and to the Central American caravans moving north, Nicaraguans who initially retreated south to Costa Rica may start to head to the U.S.-Mexico border to claim asylum.
‘What’s changed is the scope with which people have been targeted,’ said Alexander Parcan, an attorney with the group Human Rights First who is representing Nicaraguans seeking asylum in the United States. He said until this year, the few people fleeing Nicaragua were mostly outspoken political activists. But he says now Ortega is labeling regular people who participated in the protests — teachers, bus drivers, nurses, etc. — as political enemies.
According to Mexican immigration officials, the number of Nicaraguans detained has increased 125 percent since April. US Border Officials don’t have statistics on how many Nicaraguans are applying for asylum, but immigration attorneys say they are also seeing an increase. Much of the increase is from people like Maciel García and her family.
Moreover, Costa Ricans started to protest the camps of Nicaraguans in their country, possibly incentivizing others to head through El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico to reach the United States. More Nicaraguans have shown up in the caravans in FY 2019 as well. It is likely that this summer will see yet more arrive. Congress needs to intervene to make legal immigration possible, particularly for migrants from the Northern Triangle countries, to make the asylum process manageable again.