Posted on January 9, 2024

African Migration to the U.S. Soars as Europe Cracks Down

Miriam Jordan, New York Times, January 5, 2024

The young men from Guinea had decided it was time to leave their impoverished homeland in West Africa. But instead of seeking a new life in Europe, where so many African migrants have settled, they set out for what has become a far safer bet of late: the United States.

“Getting into the United States is certain compared to European countries, and so I came,” said Sekuba Keita, 30, who was at a migrant center in San Diego on a recent afternoon after an odyssey that took him by plane to Turkey, Colombia, El Salvador and Nicaragua, then by land to the Mexico-U.S. border.


While migrants from African nations still represent a small share of the people crossing the southern border, their numbers have been surging, as smuggling networks in the Americas open new markets and capitalize on intensifying anti-immigrant sentiment in some corners of Europe.


According to government data obtained by The Times, the number of Africans apprehended at the southern border jumped to 58,462 in the fiscal year 2023 from 13,406 in 2022. The top African countries in 2023 were Mauritania, at 15,263; Senegal, at 13,526; and Angola and Guinea, which each had more than 4,000.

Nonprofits that work on the border said that the trend has continued, with the absolute number and share of migrants from Africa climbing in recent months as potential destinations in Europe narrow.


The surge of migrants from African nations can be noticeable even before they arrive in the Americas. After a flight from Senegal landed in Morocco on a recent morning, an airport employee called for anyone headed to the Nicaraguan capital Managua. A few dozen Senegalese travelers followed her.

The Nicaraguan government, led by longtime president Daniel Ortega, does not restrict entry of Africans, and by starting their overland journey there, migrants are spared the perilous trek through the Darien Gap, a dense jungle between Colombia and Panama.

The African migrants continue through Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico until they arrive at the southern U.S. border. Between January and September, nearly 28,000 Africans passed through Honduras, a sixfold increase over the corresponding period in 2022, according to the Honduran government. Guinea, Senegal and Mauritania are among the top 10 countries of those migrants; only a couple dozen people from each of those countries traveled through Honduras in 2020.

While the United States has ramped up deportation flights, it has had to keep releasing many more people into the country because immigration detention centers are full and families cannot be locked up for extended periods. It is also extremely difficult to deport people to countries in Asia and Africa, because of the long distance and lack of consent from many nations.

Across the Atlantic, immigration has stirred concern in many countries. Right-leaning candidates with anti-immigration platforms prevailed in a few national elections last year, most recently in the Netherlands. France, Germany and Spain have struck deals with Tunisia and Morocco to intercept migrants who transit through them. And on Dec. 20, the European Union signed a pact to facilitate the deportation of asylum seekers and limit migration to the bloc.

Migrants heading to the United States share tips and success stories on social media, and smugglers masquerading as travel guides tout their services. Friends and relatives relay that they obtain U.S. work authorization after filing asylum claims. And while the migrants are unlikely to win their cases, it typically takes years for a decision because of a massive backlog in immigration court.


The route from West Africa and through Central America emerged a few years ago, according to Aly Tandian, a professor specializing in migration studies at the University Gaston Berger in Senegal. But departures soared in 2023 as more migrants began flying through Morocco and Turkey en route to Nicaragua.


More than a dozen migrants interviewed for this article said that they had surrendered at the border to U.S. agents, who bused them to a processing facility. There, the migrants spent two or three nights waiting their turn to provide personal information to authorities. They were released with documents that indicated they were in deportation proceedings and must go to court on a specific date in the city where they reported they will live.