96-Minute Turnaround for Migrants at Southwest Border

Apprehensions down to fewer than 600 per day

By Andrew R. Arthur on April 1, 2020

Topic Page: Covid-19 and Immigration

  • Under a recently announced agreement with the Mexican government, migrants from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras who are apprehended along the Southwest border are being returned to Mexico in an average of 96 minutes.
  • Those migrants are not being given medical exams while in U.S. custody in an effort to limit their exposure to Border Patrol agents in particular and the United States generally.
  • Aliens with serious criminal records or arrest warrants, as well as those who cannot be summarily returned to Mexico, are still being booked into DHS custody.
  • The demographic makeup of migrants seeking illegal entry into the United States has changed significantly in less than a year. In FY 2019, 71 percent of all migrants who were apprehended by Border Patrol along the Southwest border were from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Today, 60 percent are from Mexico.
  • The number of migrants seeking illegal entry has also dropped precipitously, to fewer than 600 per day, down from an average of more than 4,285 per day in May 2019.

In a March 21 post, I discussed a White House press release that, among other things, announced that all aliens who are apprehended entering illegally or who are otherwise inadmissible would be expeditiously returned back across the border, apparently regardless of whether they claimed "credible fear" or not. On Monday, the Washington Post reported that the Border Patrol is now processing and returning nationals of Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras back across the border "in an average of 96 minutes".

As I explained in my March 21 post: "On Friday, the White House announced that it had reached a 'mutual agreement' with Mexico to restrict all 'non-essential travel' across the Southwest border in response to the Wuhan pandemic." As part of that agreement, the White House announced:

The United States will expeditiously return aliens who cross between ports of entry or are otherwise not allowed to enter the country, as the facilities in which these aliens would normally be held cannot support quarantine for the time needed to assess potential cases.

These aliens are processed in stations designed for short-term processing, where distancing is not a viable option, creating a serious danger of an outbreak.


This action will also protect the health of our country's dedicated border agents and other law enforcement personnel, who are vital to the security of our Nation.

The Post reported on the implementation of this policy:

Under the new rules, U.S. agents are processing migrants from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras "in the field" before they are able to set foot inside a U.S. Border Patrol station. The migrants are then whisked back to the border and sent into Mexico.

The migrants are not given medical exams while in U.S. custody, which is one of the reasons agents are able to send them back to Mexico so quickly, according to one Customs and Border Protection [CBP] official who, like the others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the process because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly.

"The goal is to minimize the exposure to the alien, agent and our country," the CBP official said.

While the Mexican government has the right not to accept third country nationals, the paper indicated that "as a practical matter, U.S. officials said Mexican authorities are accepting nearly all of the migrants from" El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras "who are subject to 'expulsion' from the United States."

That said, those who are apprehended and "who have U.S. arrest warrants or serious criminal records and those who cannot be summarily expelled are being booked and detained in U.S. facilities using standard practices."

The number of aliens apprehended along the Southwest border has dropped in recent days "from more than 1,000 per day to fewer than 600 on Sunday", likely as a result of the White House initiative. If this number holds, the number of aliens apprehended could fall to as low as 18,000 per month, down from a high of 132,856 in May 2019 — an 86.5 percent decrease.

In addition, according to the Post, some unaccompanied alien children (UACs), who were not covered by the travel order, "also are eligible for expedited deportation to their home countries." It's not clear from that article whether those children are from Mexico, or from one of the other three countries. As I have previously explained:

[B]y law, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is required to turn all ... UACs from non-contiguous countries (that is every country other than Canada and Mexico) over to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) within 48 hours of the point at which they were identified as UACs, for prompt placement in the least restrictive setting "that is in the best interest of the child".

In my March 21 post, I posited that: "It appears that the administration is utilizing the sweeping powers conferred on the surgeon general by 42 U.S.C. § 265." If correct, that authority would seemingly supersede section 235 of the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA) , which set up the distinctions between how CBP processes UACs from Mexico and Canada (on the one hand) and those from non-contiguous countries (on the other).

Another interesting side note from the Washington Post article concerns the makeup of migrants who are being apprehended at the border: "Mexican nationals account for about 60 percent of those taken into custody, and migrants from" El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras "account for about 26 percent."

This is a stark departure from FY 2019, when more than 71 percent of all migrants who were apprehended by Border Patrol along the Southwest border were from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

In any event, the White House's travel restrictions appear to be having a significant effect, at least in the short run.