Nicholas Roll, AFP, February 6, 2024
As political and racial persecution grew worse in his native Mauritania, Barry looked for a way out.
Scouring discussion groups on social media for tips on clandestine migration, he soon found that the longtime standby of risky sea voyages in leaky open boats to Europe wasn’t the only option. There was the United States — via Mexico.
The journey of Barry — who asked only to be identified by his first name — by land from Mexico in July reflects the growing reality of the southern US border becoming a global way station for asylum seekers, rather than only Latin American migrants.
But of the nearly 2.5 million crossings recorded by Customs and Border Protection in fiscal year 2023, 1.26 million people originated from outside of the usual source-countries Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
That represents a 234 percent increase from 2021, when some 378,000 “other” country nationals crossed the southern border.
For Africans specifically, more than 58,000 crossings were recorded by the Border Patrol in 2023 — a 346 percent jump compared to the year before.
About 15,000 of them were Mauritanians like Barry — more than the 13,000 Africans from the entire continent who had crossed the year before.
There isn’t one specific driver for the arrival of tens of thousands of people from as far away as China, India and Russia on the Mexican-US border.
Much of the migration is at least initially legal: Barry flew to Turkey first, then South America, before making his way north overland. The ever-evolving routes are widely shared on social media — and, according to US border officials, via “pseudo-legitimate travel agencies” in West Africa.
In November, the United States sanctioned a Mexican charter plane operator known to carry Cubans and Haitians to Nicaragua, whose lax visa policies mean people often enter there before heading overland toward the United States.
Efforts by Europe to block routes across the Sahara and the Mediterranean — including by funding the Libyan coast guard to intercept migrants at sea — might be pushing more people toward the United States, some experts say.