Fray Matías Human Rights Center, a migrants’ advocacy group in the southern city of Tapachula. “It’s not a second option.”

Some refugees inclined to stay in Mexico are seeking to reunify with relatives and friends who arrived earlier and put down roots, said Mr. Ramírez, director of the Mexican asylum agency, the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance, or Comar.

Some are also drawn by Mexico’s enormous demand for low-income labor, a need that the government has advertised.

“If they compare the type of life they have in their own countries, at the end of the day they have it better here,” in Mexico, Mr. Ramírez said.

And the country’s approval rate for asylum is high: During the first three months of this year it reached 73 percent, with another 7 percent receiving other sorts of humanitarian protection.

Hondurans — fleeing a toxic mixture of economic distress, government corruption and ineptitude, violence and natural disasters — have been far and away the single largest population of asylum seekers in Mexico since 2019. Approval rates for Honduran petitions concluded during the first three months of this year hit 86 percent.

“We don’t know if it’s their first or their second intention” to remain in Mexico, Mr. Ramírez said of asylum petitioners. “What we can tell you is that more and more people are coming to us.”

The historic number of people filing new asylum petitions in March came despite a decision by the Mexican government last month to close the nation’s southern border to nonessential traffic. The continuing flows of refugees arriving from the south has further exposed the extreme porousness of that border and, migration experts say, the weakness of Mexico’s immigration enforcement efforts.

“These are people who clearly don’t want to go back home,” said Cris Ramón, an immigration consultant based in Washington. “And they’re going to find a mechanism to stay in Mexico or in the United States.”

Oscar Lopez and Natalie Kitroeff contributed reporting

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Surge in Migrants Defies Easy or Quick Solutions for Biden

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration warned on Tuesday that the United States expected to make more apprehensions along the southwestern border this year than at any time in the past two decades, underscoring the urgency for the White House to develop solutions for the chronic problems with immigration from Central America.

The grim prediction by Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the secretary of homeland security, came as President Biden was being assailed for his handling of a surge at the border involving thousands of unaccompanied children and teenagers from the region — with attacks coming from the right for not being tough enough and from the left for not being humane enough.

The president has pleaded for time and patience, blaming his predecessor for dismantling the immigration system in his zeal to keep foreigners out. But even Mr. Biden’s top advisers acknowledge that after unwinding the harsh policies of President Donald J. Trump’s, there is no easy or quick fix for a problem that has been a recurring crisis.

“We have no illusions about how hard it is, and we know it will take time,” Mr. Mayorkas said in a statement on Tuesday as the House prepared to vote this week on several immigration measures and the administration rushed to provide more housing for the young migrants arriving at the border. But, he added, “We will get it done.”

restart the Obama-era Central American Minors program, which was intended to allow some children to apply in their home region for permission to live in the United States with a parent or other relative. When Mr. Trump ended the program, about 3,000 Central American children had been approved for travel to the United States.

It will take time to ramp up the program, which has strict vetting requirements, in order to verify the relationships of the children and their relatives.

Now, the administration is eager to examine even broader efforts to consider asylum applications remotely.

The administration is already testing a system where migrants, who were told by the Trump administration to wait along the border in squalid camps in Mexico, can use an app on their cellphones to apply for asylum and track their cases. That kind of system might be expanded more broadly, officials said.

“This is the road map going forward for a system that is safe, orderly and fair,” Mr. Mayorkas said.

Many of the changes Mr. Biden wants are included in comprehensive immigration legislation he sent to Congress on his first day in office. But that bill is a long way from becoming law, especially with Mr. Trump and other Republicans again using immigration to stoke their partisan base.

Mr. Biden’s most ambitious — and difficult — goal is to use the United States’ wealth and diplomatic power to reshape the region in the hopes of diminishing the root causes of migration from Central America, starting with poverty and violence.

It is an effort that has been tried before, Mr. Obama and members of Congress from both parties agreed to invest several hundred million dollars into Central America with the hope of improving the courts, diminishing the cartels and improving economic conditions.

Mr. Trump cut that spending, arguing that it was a waste of money, before restoring some of it. But Mr. Biden’s team is betting that even more investment will produce results. In Honduras, for example, the country’s coffee production has been hurt by hurricanes and slumping prices for coffee beans, driving many people into poverty.

But helping to reverse those kinds of economic trends could take years.

“When the president talks about ‘root causes,’ some of this is immediate humanitarian aid, but a lot of it is policy and aid together, making sure that you tackle the root causes of migration,” Ms. Jacobson said. “Otherwise, what you see is continued cycles.”

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President Biden Faces Challenge From Surge of Migrants at the Border

WASHINGTON — Thousands of migrant children are backed up in United States detention facilities along the border with Mexico, part of a surge of immigration from Central Americans fleeing poverty and violence that could overwhelm President Biden’s attempt to create a more humane approach to those seeking entry into the country.

The number of migrant children in custody along the border has tripled in the past two weeks to more than 3,250, according to federal immigration agency documents obtained by The New York Times, and many of them are being held in jail-like facilities for longer than the three days allowed by law.

The problem for the administration is both the number of children crossing the border and what to do with them once they are in custody. Under the law, the children are supposed to be moved to shelters run by the Health and Human Services Department, but because of the pandemic the shelters until last week were limiting how many children they could accommodate.

The growing number of unaccompanied children is just one element of an escalating problem at the border. Border agents encountered a migrant at the border about 78,000 times in January — more than double the rate at the same time a year ago and higher than in any January in a decade.

refused to call a “crisis” but could nevertheless become a potent political weapon for his Republican adversaries and upend his efforts to legalize millions of undocumented immigrants.

The president has proposed overhauling the nation’s decades-old immigration system by making it easier for asylum seekers and refugees, expanding legal pathways for foreign workers, increasing opportunities for family-based immigration and vastly reducing threats of mass deportations. His State Department announced on Monday that foreigners rejected after Jan. 20, 2020, under Mr. Trump’s travel ban could try to obtain visas without paying additional fees.

Hundreds of migrant families are also being released into the United States after being apprehended at the border, prompting predictable attacks by conservatives.

Liberal politicians are denouncing the expansion of detention facilities and railing against the continued imposition of Trump-era rules intended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus from immigrants. And advocates for families separated at the border during Mr. Trump’s administration are pressuring the president to move faster to reunite them.

Together, it has put Mr. Biden on the defensive in the early days of his presidency as he attempts to demonstrate a tone very different from his predecessor’s.

The immigration system Mr. Biden envisions will take months, if not years, to be fully implemented, forcing the administration to scramble to find space for children and rely, for now, on a rule that swiftly returns adults and most families to their home countries.

For now, Mr. Biden has broken from his predecessor in not applying the pandemic emergency rule to children, meaning the United States is still responsible for caring for them until they are placed with a sponsor.

long-term detention facilities within 72 hours.

But for now, using the same pandemic rule the Trump administration did, the Biden administration has continued to turn away most migrants other than unaccompanied children.

And almost as soon as Mr. Biden came into office, top administration officials publicly sought to discourage migrants from traveling north, saying it would take time to unravel Mr. Trump’s policies. Previous public messaging campaigns, including standing up billboards in Central America to encourage migrants to stay home, have failed.

“Realistically, one is addressing a population of people that are desperate,” Mr. Mayorkas said in an interview. “It is not going to work 100 percent, but if it is effective at all, that is of momentous importance not only to what we are trying to do but for the well being of the people.”

Some families are being released into the United States. Border agents have not been able to turn away migrant families in South Texas because of a change in Mexican law that bans the detention of small children.

Administration officials point to a flurry of actions underway aimed at fixing what they say is a broken immigration system: improving communications between the Border Patrol and the health department, including whether the children being transported to the long-term centers are boys or girls; streamlining background checks for shelter employees; and vaccinating border workers against the coronavirus.

They are also accelerating efforts to get new facilities to care for children during the weeks and months that it takes to find relatives or foster parents. They are considering unused school buildings, military bases and federal facilities that could be rapidly converted into places acceptable for children.

And they are restarting a program in Central America that will allow children to apply for asylum without making the dangerous trek to the border. Mr. Trump ended the program, which Biden administration officials said would eventually reduce the flow of migrant children to the United States.

But all of that will take time. Meanwhile, officials say, they recognize that the pressure on Mr. Biden will only increase.

“At every step of the way we’re looking at where are the bottlenecks and then trying to eliminate those bottlenecks and yes it won’t be solved by tomorrow,” said Esther Olavarria, the deputy director for immigration at the White House’s Domestic Policy Council. “But if you don’t start to do each of these things, you are never going to solve the problem.”

Annie Karni and Maggie Haberman contributed reporting.

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Biden Faces Challenge From Surge of Migrants at the Border

WASHINGTON — Thousands of migrant children are backed up in United States detention facilities along the border with Mexico, part of a surge of immigration from Central Americans fleeing poverty and violence that could overwhelm President Biden’s attempt to create a more humane approach to those seeking entry into the country.

The number of migrant children in custody along the border has tripled in the past two weeks to more than 3,250, according to federal immigration agency documents obtained by The New York Times, and many of them are being held in jail-like facilities for longer than the three days allowed by law.

The problem for the administration is both the number of children crossing the border and what to do with them once they are in custody. Under the law, the children are supposed to be moved to shelters run by the Health and Human Service Department, but because of the pandemic the shelters until last week were limiting how many children they could accommodate.

The growing number of unaccompanied children is just one element of an escalating problem at the border. Border agents encountered a migrant at the border about 78,000 times in January — more than double the rate at the same time a year ago and higher than in any January in a decade.

refused to call a “crisis” but could nevertheless become a potent political weapon for his Republican adversaries and upend his efforts to legalize millions of undocumented immigrants.

The president has proposed overhauling the nation’s decades-old immigration system by making it easier for asylum seekers and refugees, expanding legal pathways for foreign workers, increasing opportunities for family-based immigration and vastly reducing threats of mass deportations. His State Department announced on Monday that foreigners rejected after Jan. 20, 2020, under Mr. Trump’s travel ban could try to obtain visas without paying additional fees.

Hundreds of migrant families are also being released into the United States after being apprehended at the border, prompting predictable attacks by conservatives.

Liberal politicians are denouncing the expansion of detention facilities and railing against the continued imposition of Trump-era rules intended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus from immigrants. And advocates for families separated at the border during Mr. Trump’s administration are pressuring the president to move faster to reunite them.

Together, it has put Mr. Biden on the defensive in the early days of his presidency as he attempts to demonstrate a tone very different from his predecessor’s.

The immigration system Mr. Biden envisions will take months, if not years, to be fully implemented, forcing the administration to scramble to find space for children and rely, for now, on a rule that swiftly returns adults and most families to their home countries.

For now, Mr. Biden has broken from his predecessor in not applying the pandemic emergency rule to children, meaning the United States is still responsible for caring for them until they are placed with a sponsor.

long-term detention facilities within 72 hours.

But for now, using the same pandemic rule the Trump administration did, the Biden administration has continued to turn away most migrants other than unaccompanied children.

And almost as soon as Mr. Biden came into office, top administration officials publicly sought to discourage migrants from traveling north, saying it would take time to unravel Mr. Trump’s policies. Previous public messaging campaigns, including standing up billboards in Central America to encourage migrants to stay home, have failed.

“Realistically, one is addressing a population of people that are desperate,” Mr. Mayorkas said in an interview. “It is not going to work 100 percent, but if it is effective at all, that is of momentous importance not only to what we are trying to do but for the well being of the people.”

Some families are being released into the United States. Border agents have not been able to turn away migrant families in South Texas because of a change in Mexican law that bans the detention of small children.

Administration officials point to a flurry of actions underway aimed at fixing what they say is a broken immigration system: improving communications between the Border Patrol and the health department, including whether the children being transported to the long-term centers are boys or girls; streamlining background checks for shelter employees; and vaccinating border workers against the coronavirus.

They are also accelerating efforts to get new facilities to care for children during the weeks and months that it takes to find relatives or foster parents. They are considering unused school buildings, military bases and federal facilities that could be rapidly converted into places acceptable for children.

And they are restarting a program in Central America that will allow children to apply for asylum without making the dangerous trek to the border. Mr. Trump ended the program, which Biden administration officials said would eventually reduce the flow of migrant children to the United States.

But all of that will take time. Meanwhile, officials say, they recognize that the pressure on Mr. Biden will only increase.

“At every step of the way we’re looking at where are the bottlenecks and then trying to eliminate those bottlenecks and yes it won’t be solved by tomorrow,” said Esther Olavarria, the deputy director for immigration at the White House’s Domestic Policy Council. “But if you don’t start to do each of these things, you are never going to solve the problem.”

Annie Karni and Maggie Haberman contributed reporting.

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