EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Migrant encounters increased 23% between June and July in the El Paso region, but the number of families surrendering to Border Patrol agents between ports of entry more than doubled during that lapse, U.S. Customs and Border Protection data shows.

Border agents in the El Paso Sector came across 4,139 family units in July, compared to 1,782 the previous month, a trend that’s being seen across the Southwest border, where the agency reported 60,161 encounters with people migrating as a family in July, compared to only 31,266 in June.

At the ports of entry, where migrants with asylum appointments are supposed to come in lawfully, the numbers were up only slightly. The El Paso Sector of CBP’s Office of Field Operations reported 7,888 encounters in July, compared to 6,919 in June.

Across the border in Juarez, Mexico, migrant families can be seen in public parks and along sidewalks, either waiting for an online asylum appointment through the CBP One app or waiting for an opportunity to cross the Rio Grande to surrender to U.S. immigration authorities without one.

“A lot of families came here with their children with the hope of going across the border. It’s complicated for us that come with our family […] We have suffered a lot along the way,” said Antonio de la Cruz, a citizen of Venezuela.

The Circumvention of Legal Pathways rule meant to prevent asylum-seekers from surrendering between ports of entry was either not known or not taken at face value by some migrant families interviewed in Juarez on Tuesday. The rule being challenged in court by activists who refer to it as a Biden administration “asylum travel ban” hasn’t deterred some families from coming and rolling the dice by crossing the border without appointments.

“It’s good that they want to reduce the dangers of (irregular crossings). The controversy is they should start … in Ciudad Hidalgo, in Tapachula” near the Mexico-Guatemala border, said Edwin, another Venezuelan migrant who came with his family to Juarez.

Migrants are preyed upon on the way to Mexican border cities from where they are supposed to access the CBP One app, he said.

“If a bus ride is 25 pesos for Mexicans, for us it is 250, 350 – and five minutes later the police stop you, get you down if you are a migrant and you lose your money,” Edwin said. “It is not fair that they return us to our countries; if we left our families, our parents, it wasn’t of our own free will, we were threatened. My life was threatened. If they return me to my country, they will be putting my life at risk.”

Officials in Juarez for the past three weeks have been reporting an increase in migrant arrivals, including families that come from the Mexico-Guatemala border atop cargo trains.

A Venezuelan man plays with a child under the shade of a tree in a park in Juarez, Mexico. (Border Report photo)

Mexican ‘economic migrants’ coming in large numbers

Border-wide, citizens from countries other than Mexico or the Northern Triangle of Central America made up the largest demographic of non-citizens being apprehended by or surrendering to agents. But in El Paso, Mexicans far outnumbered all other demographics in both June and July, CBP data shows.

Migrant encounters in the El Paso Sector, by demographic. (CBP graphic)

Data shows most of the Mexicans are single adults. In previous interviews, Mexican migrants have told Border Report they come for seasonal work and aren’t looking for asylum. They’re what border agents often refer to as “economic migrants.”

The number of unaccompanied minors showing up between ports of entry also increased in the El Paso Sector from 1,023 in June to 1,287 in July.

Eastern Arizona and the Rio Grande Valley of Texas reported the most migrant encounters in July, with 39,215 and 26,528, respectively. The El Paso Sector reported a total of 16,464 encounters in July, compared to 13,231 in June.

Fiscal year to date (since Oct. 1, 2022), the El Paso Sector still leads the nation in migrant encounters, with 364,092. Del Rio is second with 317,886 and Tucson is third with 273,876.

(Juarez freelance photojournalist Roberto Delgado contributed to this report.)