WASHINGTON (CNN) — US Border Patrol arrests on the southern border increased for the first time since last May, the height of the migration crisis on the US-Mexico border, according to data obtained by CNN.
The agency apprehended 30,068 migrants illegally crossing into the US from Mexico in February, up from around 29,200 in January, the unofficial data and last month’s reported numbers show.
However, the numbers are far below last year. Last February, 66,883 people were arrested on the southwest border.
The uptick comes days after a federal appeals court dealt a major blow to the administration’s immigration agenda, blocking a policy to send migrants to wait in Mexico for their US court dates. US officials have touted this program for helping reduce the number of people illegally crossing the border.
“Rulings like this, it threatens our progress,” said acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan at a press conference Thursday.
The policy was allowed to temporarily remain in effect as the administrative appeals to the Supreme Court.
The numbers had been on a decline since the height of the border crisis last May when nearly 133,000 people were arrested.
“Our main focus was to reduce the flow of illegal immigration, specifically families from Northern Triangle countries, that was our main goal. We have succeeded in absolutely mitigating and addressing that crisis,” Morgan said. “The cartels, the smuggling organizations had to shift their tactics to continue their profit criminal scheme.”
Morgan said smugglers have shifted from moving migrants from the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, to people from Mexico and others from outside of North and Central America.
Last year, the massive influx of migrant children and families arriving at US borders overwhelmed resources and strained agency morale. Migrants, including children, were held longer than the allowed 72 hours, and some Border Patrol facilities faced dangerous overcrowding.
Border Patrol arrests are used as a measure of illegal crossings and overall migration trends to the US.
Acting Deputy DHS Secretary Ken Cuccinelli told CNN that the “flow is obviously always of interest to us and we did achieve eight down-months in a row.”
January marked the eighth consecutive month that there was a decline in US Border Patrol apprehensions, but that ticked up slightly last month.