(NewsNation) — Migrants attempted to cross the U.S.-Mexico border at the highest level in two decades in March as the U.S. prepares for even larger numbers with the expected lifting of a pandemic-era order that turned away asylum seekers.
According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data, March marked the largest number of migrants apprehended in 22 years, and notably the nationalities of migrants attempting to cross have changed.
Immigration authorities stopped migrants 221,303 times along the Southwest border in March, a 33% increase from a month earlier, with 40% of all encounters with people from countries besides those in central America.
A record-breaking number of Cubans attempted to cross as well as high numbers of Nicaraguans and Colombians.
About 3,000 Ukrainians were processed at the southern border, with Ukraine becoming the ninth-largest source of migrants to the U.S. last month.
The new figures were disclosed as the Biden administration comes under increasing pressure over the looming expiration of a public health order that enabled U.S. authorities to turn back most migrants, including people seeking asylum from persecution.
A backlog of people waiting outside the country to seek asylum, as well as dire economic and political conditions in much of Latin America and the Caribbean, is partially responsible for the increase in migrants. Administration critics blame Biden, arguing his administration’s moves to roll back Trump-era policies have encouraged people to come.
The number of illegal crossings, or those outside official ports of entry, totaled 209,906 in March, surpassing the previous high of Biden’s presidency of 200,658 set in July, and the highest level since March 2000, when it reached 220,063.
Former President Donald Trump also faced a sharp increase in migrant border crossings, but the number plummeted with the start of the pandemic. In March 2020, the previous administration invoked Title 42, a little-used public health authority to quickly expel nearly anyone encountered along the Southwest border.
U.S. authorities have expelled migrants more than 1.7 million times under Title 42 authority, named for a 1944 public health law, using the threat of COVID-19 to deny migrants a chance to seek asylum as required under U.S. law and international treaty.
With COVID-19 cases in decline, the Biden administration has said it intends to end the use of Title 42 at the border on May 23. However, reports surfaced this week that Biden is considering delaying the date.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.