August Migrant Apprehension Numbers Show the Border Is in Freefall

But you wouldn’t know it from CBP’s sunny press release

By Andrew R. Arthur on September 16, 2021

  • The total number of migrants apprehended at the Southwest border in August decreased by just 2.5 percent from July. That was a lower increase than I had expected, given that a court had ordered the Biden administration to reinstate “Remain in Mexico” and that temperatures in the Rio Grande Valley soared to the high 90s for most of August.
  • The number of alien adults and children entering illegally in “family units” who were apprehended by Border Patrol increased unexpectedly by 4 percent to nearly 80,000 — the second-highest recorded number ever, just trailing May 2019, when nearly 84,500 migrants in family units were apprehended.
  • Then-President Trump enacted policies that successfully stemmed the family unit surge in 2019. Last month’s family unit apprehension numbers were more than three times as high as they had been in August 2019, after those policies were implemented. President Biden has ditched almost all of those policies, a big reason why the border is a disaster.
  • The 18,534 unaccompanied alien children apprehended in August was the third-highest monthly total ever recorded. Before Biden took office, those numbers never exceeded 11,500 per month. Since March, they have never fallen below 13,800.
  • The number of migrants who are not from Mexico or the Northern Triangle has surged this fiscal year, reaching almost 300,000. That is nearly as large as the total number of migrants apprehended at the Southwest border in all of FY 2011 and all of FY 2017.
  • The Biden administration blames the increase in migrants at the Southwest border on “recidivists” — aliens who were expelled or removed and who attempted to reenter again. The 25 percent recidivism rate this year, however, is lower than it was in FY 2007 (29 percent, when the total number of apprehensions was 41 percent lower than it has been in FY 2021), and much lower than in FY 2000, when the recidivism rate was between 44 and 45 percent.

On September 15, CBP released its statistics on the number of aliens who were apprehended at the Southwest border in August. Those numbers show that the border is in freefall — but you would not know that from reading CBP’s sunny press release.

Last month, CBP encountered 208,887 migrants at the Southwest border. Of those, 195,558 were Border Patrol apprehensions, the rest were aliens stopped at the ports.

As I predicted in a September 13 post, Border Patrol apprehensions declined last month, from 200,599 in July — 5,041 migrants, or about 2.5 percent. I would have expected a much larger decrease, for two reasons.

First, on August 13, a district court judge in Texas enjoined the Biden administration’s attempt to terminate the Migrant Protection Protocols — MPP, better known as “Remain in Mexico”.

In October 2019, a DHS assessment concluded that MPP had been successful in discouraging aliens from entering the United States illegally. I assumed that even the threat of the program being reinvigorated (which the Biden administration is being forced to do) would have dissuaded more migrants from entering.

It may well have, if most of those migrants entered before the Supreme Court denied the president’s request to stay that injunction on August 24 (CBP’s statistics are not broken down by day).

The second reason I expected a bigger decline has to do with the weather.

Temperatures in the Rio Grande Valley (RGV), where a third of all migrants were apprehended this fiscal year, soared in August. Daytime temperatures in McAllen (a prime crossing spot) ran in the high 80s to the low 90s for most of the month of July, but they exceeded 96 degrees in 25 of the 31 days of August (temperatures were 100 or higher on seven days, mostly at the end of the month).

Illegal entry is a dangerous proposition at the best of times, but it can be a deadly gambit when it is sweltering. The heat did not appear to stop many last month, however.

In its press release, however, CBP gives itself a big pat on the back for the fact that the number of single adults its agents and officers encountered at the border fell 7 percent (to just over 103,000) from the month before and that the number of unaccompanied alien children (UACs) fell 1 percent (to 18,847).

Those are not statistics to trumpet, especially given the fact that the number of aliens in family units apprehended by Border Patrol in particular last month increased more than 4 percent over July, to almost 80,000.

That is the second largest number of Border Patrol FMU apprehensions at the Southwest border ever (statistics go back to October 2012), following just May 2019, when they reached almost 84,500.

That brings up two points:

First, the number of aliens in family units has increased for the last four months, during a period of time migration traditionally falls (it usually peaks in May and declines through January). This year, FMU apprehensions in August were 95 percent higher than they were in May, a harbinger of increased illegal immigration to come.

Second, the Trump administration implemented several policies to gain operational control of the border, largely due to that surge in family units in 2019. They worked, and by August 2019, family unit apprehensions fell to just over 25,000, and never exceeded 10,000 between that October and January 2021.

The Biden administration began dismantling those policies in January, as my colleague Robert Law noted in March. If you want to know the reason that FMU apprehensions last month were more than three times as large as they were in August two years before, that’s why.

And, yes, the number of UACs who were apprehended by CBP fell slightly last month, but the 18,534 children Border Patrol apprehended in August was the third-highest monthly total ever (statistics go back to October 2009).

Before Biden took office, monthly UAC apprehensions had only topped 10,000 three times (in May and June 2014, and May 2019) and had never exceeded 11,500. Since March, UAC apprehensions have never fallen below 13,800, and have exceeded 18,000 three times.

If you want to know why the Biden administration has lost track of almost 4,900 UACs it has released, that explains it: The system is overloaded, and the president doesn’t seem to think that’s a problem. If he does think it’s a problem, he is doing nothing to fix it. No more resources (he actually wants to steal those to fulfill campaign promises), and no new policies.

The most disturbing fact in CBP’s August numbers, however, is that illegal migrants are now coming from much farther away.

Historically, almost all illegal migrants were Mexican nationals, but that trend shifted in FY 2014, when for the first time Border Patrol apprehended more “other than Mexican” (OTM) migrants that Mexican nationals.

Still, between FY 2014 and this year, almost all of those OTMs were from the three “Northern Triangle” countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Nationals of those countries made up more than 71 percent of all Border Patrol apprehensions at the Southwest border in FY 2019, for example.

We will need to adopt a new acronym for the flood of migrants who entered last month who were neither Mexican nationals nor from the Northern Triangle -- I propose Other than Northern Triangle (ONT).

More than 59,000 OTM/ONTs were caught at the Southwest border last month, a 3 percent increase over July, but more importantly almost four times as many as were apprehended in May 2019 (the pre-Biden peak), and 7.26 times as many as in August just two years before.

This fiscal year, nearly 300,000 OTM/ONTs have been apprehended at the Southwest border — almost as many as the total number of illegal migrants apprehended by Border Patrol there in all of FY 2011 (327,577) or FY 2017 (almost 304,000).

If this trend continues (and there’s no reason to believe it won’t), when CBP releases its September numbers, OTM/ONTs alone will surpass those two yearly Southwest border totals for migrants of all nationalities, and FY 2015’s (331,333), too.

Where is this new batch of illegal migrants coming from? Almost 10,000 were Nicaraguans, more than 6,700 were from Haiti (many likely after a stop-over in South America for a few years), more than 4,400 were Cubans (ditto), and 17,500-plus were from Ecuador.

There were also more than 6,200 from socialist basket case Venezuela and 9,075 Brazilians, but they weren’t all from the Western Hemisphere: Some 173 Romanians were caught at the Southwest border, 374 from India, more than 100 Russians, almost 250 Turkish nationals, 22 from the People’s Republic of China, and 10 from Ukraine.

That is a big problem for the Biden administration, because the number of foreign nationals globally who could seek to enter the United States illegally is virtually limitless. But through its feckless immigration policies and inconsistent (to put it kindly) messaging, this administration has put out the welcome mat to the entire world.

Biden’s DHS, however, is attempting to hide the magnitude of the disaster at the Southwest border by asserting that 25 percent of the aliens encountered at the Southwest border were recidivists — migrants who had been caught and expelled or removed, only to attempt to reenter again.

By comparison, it argues, just 14 percent were recidivists between FY 2014 and 2019. It’s interesting that the administration chose to use that rather specific timeframe, but it did so because that was a period when most illegal entrants were OTMs. When they were removed, they weren’t sent back across the border to try it again — they were sent home.

Almost 1.5 million aliens have been apprehended by the Border Patrol at the Southwest border thus far in FY 2021, more than in any single fiscal year since FY 2000 (1,643,679). September’s numbers will likely break that record.

Of the aliens apprehended in FY 2000, more than 1.6 million (98 percent) were Mexican nationals. Most of them were quickly sent back across the border under an informal process called “Voluntary Return”.

Not surprisingly, many migrants who were caught and sent back tried to reenter again. The 1.6 million-plus apprehensions that year actually involved fewer than one million aliens. Migrants in FY 2000 were apprehended an average of 1.9 times, and the recidivism rate then was between 44 and 45 percent.

I was at the INS at the time and knew of one alien who had been apprehended 48 times after entering illegally.

Here’s another statistic: In FY 2007, fewer than 860,000 migrants were apprehended at the Southwest border. The recidivism rate that year was 29 percent, 4 points higher than this year. DHS knows all of this, and yet they are trotting out the “recidivism” trope to hide how unprecedented the disaster at the border really is.

I have been doing this for almost three decades, and you can trust me: The border is a bigger disaster than it has ever been — even before the security reforms that followed in the wake of 9/11.

That brings up the most salient point. For hundreds of thousands of aliens who have entered illegally, the Biden administration is treating illegal immigration as if it were legal immigration.

The problem is that before a foreign national is allowed to enter this country legally, they must be fully vetted. There is no vetting that DHS can perform on these aliens, aside from checking its own databases, which will only contain information on aliens whom the U.S. government is aware of.

If the identities in those databases aren’t linked to biometrics (which they rarely are), nothing stops an alien from adopting a new identity and being released into the United States. That’s exactly how Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the first World Trade Center bombing, was able to be released after he arrived at JFK.

To say nothing of the aliens with lengthy criminal records back home. Or the aliens who are “just coming to work”, in direct competition with the lowest paid American workers (both U.S. citizens and legal aliens).

If you're curious as to why progressives are pushing for a $15 minimum wage, it’s because a flooded labor market prevents workers from earning that amount without government interference.

The administration does not think that a failing border and its attendant terrorism risks, criminal vulnerabilities, and economic woes is a problem. Biden is not changing his policies, so be prepared to deal with the consequences that will be reflected in another 41 months of dismal border statistics.