Some 1,500 migrants crossed Rio Grande into El Paso on Sunday - witness

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico, Dec 12 (Reuters) - About 1,500 people crossed the Rio Grande overnight from Mexico into El Paso, Texas, a Reuters witness said on Monday, amid an increase in migrant arrivals in the area ahead of the expiry of a pandemic-era order that blocks them at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Some of the migrants were clutching bags in their arms and children on their back as they waded into the river to cross from Ciudad Juarez in Mexico into the United States, according to a Reuters witness who photographed the events.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on Sunday encountered about 2,400 migrants attempting to enter the El Paso Sector, according to a website maintained by the city of El Paso. That stretches for 268 miles (431 km) and includes part of the border in Texas and the entire border with the state of New Mexico.

CBP has not yet published its own statistics for November but September and October saw a sharp rise in migrant encounters in El Paso from a year ago. CBP spokesperson Landon Hutchens said additional agents and officers were being brought in "to process individuals as safely and expeditiously as possible."

Although the exact reasons for the increase cannot be determined, U.S. officials are preparing for a possible further rise in migrant crossings from Dec. 21, when the order known as Title 42 is set to expire. The order was brought in to stem the spread of COVID-19 and allows authorities to rapidly send migrants caught at the border back to Mexico or other countries without the chance to claim U.S. asylum.

A coalition of U.S. states with Republican attorneys general are seeking to overturn a November judicial ruling that threw out the order, and keep it in place.

CBP is sending migrants to other parts of the border to ease pressure on El Paso, the agency said.

Many migrants who crossed overnight were on Monday morning standing in a long queue, stretching hundreds of meters on the northern bank of Rio Grande, to register their arrival with U.S. border authorities.

The migrants who crossed on Sunday included a group of Nicaraguans who said they were freed by Mexican authorities after being kidnapped last week in the state of Durango.

Reuters spoke to seven Nicaraguans who said they were kidnapped. Some showed videos they filmed after being freed and had their phones returned to them, including images of the place where they said they were held.

After being released, Mexican authorities loaded some of the Nicaraguan migrants on buses and ferried them to Ciudad Juarez.

"Because of everything that happened, we are left with fear. I don't think we'll be able to live in peace," said Jose Manuel, a Nicaraguan migrant who said he could not imagine staying in Mexico.

Reuters could not independently verify the migrants' accounts. Mexico's military and immigration authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Several of the Nicaraguan migrants appealed to U.S. President Joe Biden to help them.

"He is the only president who will help us, we know he will open the door for us," said one Nicaraguan man who did not identify himself.

Additional reporting by Lizbeth Diaz, Daina Beth Solomon, Jackie Botts and Ted Hesson Writing by Drazen Jorgic Editing by Rosalba O'Brien

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