Recent data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection reveals a significant increase in undocumented Indian immigrant crossings across U.S. borders on foot. This surge, part of a years-long trend, has become particularly pronounced in the fiscal year 2023.
Indian Immigrant Surge at the Border
Between October 2022 and September 2023, a total of 96,917 Indians were encountered—either apprehended, expelled, or denied entry—after entering the U.S. without proper documentation. This marks a fivefold increase compared to the same period in 2019-2020 when the number stood at 19,883.
Several factors contribute to this surge, including the overall global increase in migration post-pandemic, oppression of minority communities in India, sophisticated smuggling methods, and severe visa backlogs.
Immigrant Numbers Rise Post-COVID
The number of undocumented Indians in the U.S. has steadily risen since the reopening of borders post-Covid, with 30,662 encounters in the 2021 fiscal year and 63,927 in the 2022 fiscal year.
Out of the nearly 97,000 encounters in 2023, 30,010 occurred at the Canadian border, while 41,770 took place at the Southern border. The Southern border has become a preferred staging ground for migrants worldwide due to its perceived efficiency.
Experts highlight the intricate routes taken by migrants, involving multiple legs and facilitators. These long, treacherous journeys often leave migrants in a state of uncertainty, facing overwhelmed immigration systems. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection emphasizes that individuals arriving illegally will face removal, but the complexity increases when migrants come from distant places like India.
Factors Attributing to the Surge
The recent unprecedented spike in undocumented Indian migration is linked to worsening conditions for minorities in India, particularly Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians. Factors such as the deregulation of India’s agricultural sector in 2020 and subsequent protests have led to a perception among migrants that they have no future in the country.
Decades-long visa backlogs and the economic impact of Covid have left many desperate migrants in India, seeking better opportunities in the U.S. Social media-savvy groups posing as travel agencies exploit these aspirations, with migrants often paying their life savings for the perilous journey.
Upon reaching the U.S., migrants face an immigration system ill-equipped to handle the volume and diversity of asylum seekers. The Southern border’s processes, originally designed for single Mexican men seeking work, struggle to adapt to the new demographic of families and non-Mexican or Central American individuals.
Despite each case being individually assessed, backlogs in immigration courts and the diplomatic complexities of returning migrants to distant countries contribute to a system overwhelmed by its own weight. Smugglers exploit these challenges, further complicating the situation. While logistically easier routes exist, the U.S. holds a unique promise for Indian nationals due to its perceived opportunities. The growing influx of lower-income undocumented immigrants raises questions about how the established Indian American diaspora, known for its high median household income and education levels, will receive this new group. The dynamics of acceptance versus a focus on ‘law and order’ within the community remain uncertain.