30% of FY22 Border Arrests Aren’t from Mexico or the Northern Triangle

The limits of the Biden administration’s "root causes" efforts

By Andrew R. Arthur on December 22, 2021

I reported this week that the migrant surge at the Southwest border that began in FY 2021 has continued largely unabated into October and November. An increasing number of migrants who are not from Mexico (OTMs) or nationals of the “Northern Triangle” countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras (ONTs) is exacerbating that surge. They pose the biggest challenge to the one of the few public efforts that the Biden administration is undertaking to control the Southwest border.

Historical Trends. For decades, illegal entrants over the Southwest border were almost exclusively from Mexico. In FY 2000, for example, more than 97 percent of all Border Patrol apprehensions there were Mexican nationals.

Beginning in FY 2014, however, the number of OTMs apprehended at that border surpassed Mexican nationals (who made up 47.3 percent of the total), as illegal migration from the Northern Triangle surged. By FY 2019, nationals of the three Northern Triangle countries made up more than 71 percent of all Southwest border apprehensions.

FY 2021 saw a new and disturbing trend: The rise in OTM and ONT illegal migrants at the Southwest border. Border Patrol apprehended more than 367,000 OTM/ONT aliens there in the last fiscal year, 22 percent of total Southwest border apprehensions in FY 2021.

In the first two months of FY 2022, their numbers have swelled. Border Patrol agents in October and November apprehended more than 103,000 OTM/ONT migrants who had entered the United States illegally through Mexico, more than 30.5 percent of total apprehensions (just over 373,000).

Where are those migrants coming from? Venezuelan nationals lead the list – more than 33,700 of them were stopped in the last two months, followed by Nicaraguans (just short of 22,790), Brazilians (14,841), and Cubans (12,452). That citizens of Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba all labor under various forms of socialist government is likely not coincidental.

Illegal migration from Colombia, while lower than those four countries, is also on the rise.

In the first two months of FY 2022, more Colombians were apprehended at the Southwest border (6,304) than in all of FY 2021 (5,838). More significantly, however, Colombian apprehensions at the Southwest border were higher last month than in the entire 11-year period from FY 2009 to FY 2019.

Illegal migration at the Southwest border from Colombia really only got jump-started in August, when apprehensions topped the 1,000 mark (with nearly 1,500 Colombian apprehensions). Since then, monthly apprehensions of Colombians have increased more than 122 percent, during a period of the year that overall illegal entries have traditionally declined.

“Root Causes”. Why is all this a problem for the Biden administration? Because its efforts to control the border have focused almost exclusively on addressing what it terms the “root causes of migration” (poverty, corruption, lawlessness, inadequate human rights protections, crime, and “sexual, gender-based, and domestic violence”), solely in the Northern Triangle countries.

As I will explain below, its diplomatic efforts to address those root causes are not the only border-security efforts that the Biden administration has made, but they are far and away the administration’s major emphasis when it comes to addressing illegal migration.

Tackling these entrenched and endemic root causes of migration in the Northern Triangle does nothing to dissuade would-be migrants in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Brazil, Cuba, and Colombia from leaving home and coming to the United States, however. If the White House is proposing any similar diplomatic efforts in those countries, too, they have been so half-hearted as to escape notice.

Economic Instability in Latin America. The news is not good when it comes to economic stability in Latin America, which is the source of most illegal migration to the United States. Migrants enter the United States illegally for any number of reasons, but jobs and a higher standard of living in this country are the main pull factors driving their migration here.

Recent developments in Chile reflect a growing leftward trend in Latin America. On December 19, Chileans overwhelming elected Gabriel Boric president. The Wall Street Journal, which describes the 35-year-old Boric as a “socialist”, reports that in response to his election:

Foreign investors and Chileans with money and property are nervous. From the end of 2019—when the left launched riots demanding a new social contract—until August 2021, Chile’s central bank says some $50 billion (15% of Chilean GDP) fled the country. About half was investment capital and half from businesses and households.

None of this is to suggest that socialism is necessarily a recipe for disaster, nor the sole cause of economic hardship in the region. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is described by the Washington Post as “far right”, but the Heritage Foundation gives his country low marks on economic freedom, while illegal migration from there is surging, as noted.

Such “capital flight” is not good for Chile’s economic stability, however. CBP does not now report statistics on Border Patrol apprehensions of illegal migrants from that country, but it would not surprise me if they do so, soon.

Haitian Migration Has Fallen. The sole bright spot in the illegal migration numbers for the first two months of FY 2022 pertains to Haitian nationals.

The number of illegal migrants from Haiti apprehended at the Southwest border has fallen significantly in the last two months (though it is still well above traditional levels), following a surge that began in January and crested in September, when some 15,000 Haitians crossed the Rio Grande and landed in the border town of Del Rio, Tex.

In September, according to official statistics, Border Patrol agents apprehended nearly 17,600 Haitians along the Southwest border. Apprehensions there fell to just over 900 in October, and while they rose about 11 percent to 1,002 in November, the number of Haitians entering illegally along the Southwest border is well below what it was during the summer.

In a November 23 post, I explained that the majority of those Haitians are not coming directly from Haiti, but rather from Chile and Brazil, where they have lived for years.

In response to the Del Rio surge, however, the Biden administration flew approximately 8,500 migrants  apprehended there back to Haiti anyway, under pandemic-related orders issued by the CDC under Title 42 of the U.S. Code.

In that November post, I posited that the risk of repatriation to Haiti thereafter dissuaded most would-be Haitian migrants who are resettled in South America from entering the United States illegally, and concluded that what this showed was “when the border is secured, aliens don’t come”.

Secret Repatriation Flights. My colleague Todd Bensman has reported that Biden’s DHS is also secretly flying large numbers of migrant families from the Northern Triangle back home, as well as to southern Mexico, from which they are bused to Honduras and El Salvador.

If the Biden administration were to publicly admit that such expulsions are occurring, and to expand repatriation flights to include other Latin American countries, fewer migrants (and in particular OTM/ONTs) would pay smugglers to bring them here, as has apparently happened with the Haitians.

I understand the president’s political reasons for not doing so – many in his party’s “progressive” wing decry any removals from the United States – but the situation at the Southwest border is quickly devolving from disaster into catastrophe. Even the Washington Post – hardly a pro-enforcement outlet – recently acknowledged that efforts to address the root causes of illegal migration “have shown little evidence of deterring migration in the short term”.

Given these facts, and even if the president wants to address crime, corruption, and instability in the Northern Triangle, a public expansion of repatriation efforts is necessary to stem the tide of OTM/ONT migration to the Southwest border. The apprehension numbers for October and November are a bellwether, but there is still time to tell foreign nationals from Central America and beyond that they cannot simply enter the United States with impunity.