Apprehensions at the Southwest Border Surge in November

The Biden administration is faring poorly, and things are getting worse

By Andrew R. Arthur on December 20, 2021

In what has become a disturbing trend, CBP waited until Friday to release its statistics on the number of illegal migrants apprehended by Border Patrol agents at the Southwest border in November. “Friday news dumps” are a common D.C. gambit for burying bad news, and this news is bad: Apprehensions surged in November to almost 166,000, a 4.2 percent increase over October.

A 4.2 percent monthly increase may not seem like a “surge”, given that upwards of two million illegal migrants have flooded over the U.S.-Mexico line during the 11 months of the Biden administration. Some background reveals, however, how bad November’s numbers really are.

Seasonal Illegal Migration Trends. Illegal migration has traditionally followed a seasonal pattern. This seasonal pattern was best illustrated, of all places, in a Washington Post analysis published in March and intended to explain away the huge influx in aliens entering the United States illegally following the president’s inauguration.

That analysis was captioned (after post-publication editing) “The migrant ‘surge’ at the U.S. southern border is actually a predictable pattern”, a headline that has not aged well given that apprehensions at the Southwest border hit all-time highs in FY 2021.

Nonetheless, the Post article includes a helpful chart of cumulative monthly apprehensions at the Southwest border between FY 2012 and FY 2020. That chart shows illegal migration hits a peak in May, and then declines sharply in July, with a steady decline through the end of summer, cratering in January when the pattern starts again.

I explained last month that this seasonal decrease did not occur this year. Rather, there was a slight decline in August that continued into October, but illegal migration has still run high through the year.

Last month, when according to that chart apprehensions should have declined ever further, they jumped, as noted at the outset.

In fact, apprehensions at the Southwest border in November more than doubled the prior record for the month (Border Patrol’s monthly apprehension statistics go back to FY 2000). It was set before the border was beefed up following the September 11th attacks, in November 1999, when agents stopped fewer than 76,200 aliens entering illegally.

Of course, there is a difference between a nine-year rolling monthly summary of apprehensions (which was the focus of the Post’s analysis) and what actually happens on a yearly basis.

Apprehensions also increased – by less than two-tenths of one percent (137 apprehension in total to 69,169) – between October 2020 and November last year (the month Biden was elected president). They also rose by 1.7 percent (to 51,857) between the months of October and November 2018.

The two prior fiscal years were also outliers in this historical trend. In November 2016 (the month Trump was elected president), apprehensions at the Southwest border increased by 2.2 percent, to 47,211, over the month before.

Most significantly, however, between October 2017 and the following month, Border Patrol apprehensions at the Southwest border increased by more than 14 percent (3,597 aliens in total, to 29,085 apprehensions in November 2017).

That 14-percent increase in November 2017 was, by percentage, larger than the increase last month, but the baseline number of apprehensions this year was much higher to begin with. Simply put, the rise in apprehensions between October and November 2021 in actual numbers (6,756) was 87 percent larger than the bump between the same months in 2017.

Trump’s Border Policies, and Biden’s. In response to those surges, the Trump administration implemented a number of policies that successfully allowed CBP to gain operational control of the Southwest border. Biden quickly eviscerated almost all of those policies, which is the main reason illegal migration has mushroomed since.

That said, Biden has begun reimplementing the most effective of Trump’s border policies—the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), better known as “Remain in Mexico” – but has only done so with a metaphorical gavel to his head under court order, and even then subject to exceptions and conditions.

Something is better than nothing, however, and it may have been the threat of the Biden’s grudging reimplementation of MPP that boosted illegal migration in November, as migrants clamored to enter illegally before even the watered-down MPP went into effect. Aside from that, the Biden administration has failed to do much of anything to reduce the tide of aliens entering illegally at the Southwest border.

Worse, the president is weighing the creation of European-style, UN-approved “reception centers” for illegal migrants seeking asylum. Migrants would be free to leave those centers at their whim, but while they are there, they would have access to recreation, medical care, likely room and board, and legal assistance. Those benefits would simply boost illegal entries.

November’s Family and Child Numbers Are Particularly Bad. November’s border numbers are particularly bad in two key demographics-- unaccompanied alien children (UACs) and family migrants.

Last month, 43,157 alien adults and children in “family units” (FMUs) were apprehended after entering illegally. That was a modest 3.8 percent increase over October, but it is the fourth highest monthly total for FMU apprehensions in history (Border Patrol statistics go back to October 2012), excluding the eleven months of the Biden administration.

By comparison, in November 2018 (the second month of the federal government’s FY 2019 calendar), fewer than 25,200 aliens in FMUs were apprehended by Border Patrol on this side of the Mexican line. FMUs accounted for 55.6 percent of all migrant apprehensions in FY 2019, and were at the heart of what then-DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen termed a “border emergency” that year.

She stated:

Let me be clear: the volume of ‘vulnerable populations’ arriving is without precedent. This makes it far more difficult to care for them and to prioritize individuals legitimately fleeing persecution. In the past, the majority of migration flows were single adults who could move through our immigration system quickly and be returned to their home countries if they had no legal right to stay. Now we are seeing a flood of families and unaccompanied children, who—because of outdated laws and misguided court decisions—cannot receive efficient adjudication and, in most cases, will never be removed from the United States even if they are here unlawfully. The result is a massive ‘pull factor’ to our country.

Speaking of UACs, their apprehensions also spiked in November. Last month, Border Patrol agents at the Southwest border apprehended almost 14,000 UACs, a more than nine-percent increase over October.

Again, aside from the border chaos that defined the Biden administration in FY 2021, that is the largest number of UAC apprehensions ever been accounted for at the Southwest border, at least according to Border Patrol statistics that go back to October 2009. The UAC totals for March (18,716), April (16,900), May (13,878), June (15,022), July (16,681), August (18,462), and September (14,180) were all higher, but November’s numbers were bad, and are headed in the wrong direction.

Expect the Border Disaster to Get Worse in FY 2022. Given the November statistics for illegal migrant apprehensions at the Southwest border, you can expect the national-security and humanitarian disaster there to simply get worse in FY 2022.

All the key numbers (total apprehensions, and apprehensions of families and unaccompanied alien children) are increasing, at a time of the year when they should be on the decline. And, while the Biden administration is being forced to reimplement “Remain in Mexico”, it is pondering other policies that will simply turn the disaster at the Southwest border into a full-blown catastrophe.