Border Apprehension Numbers Reach New Highs

And fresh insights from Guatemala

By Andrew R. Arthur on June 11, 2019

On June 7, 2019, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued its latest statistics on Southwest border migration. Just when you think the problem at the border has crested, it just gets worse.

The Border Patrol apprehended 132,887 migrants attempting to enter illegally between the ports of entry on the Southwest border in May. Of that number, 84,542 (63.6 percent) were "family units", that is an adult or adults traveling with a child or children, usually purportedly their own. An additional 11,507 (8.6 percent) were unaccompanied alien children (UACs). "Only" 36,838 (27.7 percent) were single adults traveling by themselves.

Through the first eight months of FY 2019, CBP reports that the vast majority of those apprehended were from the so-called Northern Triangle of Central America – the countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Specifically, of the family units, 149,081 were from Guatemala, 129,186 were from Honduras, and 35,412 were from El Salvador. With respect to the UACs, 24,638 were from Guatemala, 14,785 were from Honduras, and 8,272 were from El Salvador. Only among single adults apprehended were the largest numbers from Mexico, 98,798, as compared to 37,281 from Guatemala, 31,671 from Honduras, and 14,183 from El Salvador.

That said, totaling the numbers together, 211,000 Guatemalan nationals were apprehended thus far in FY 2019, as well as 162,342 Honduran nationals and 57,867 Salvadoran nationals. Using CIA estimates, this means 1.27 percent of the total Guatemalan population, 1.77 percent of the Honduran population, and just less than 1 percent of the Salvadoran population have been apprehended and processed by the Border Patrol in eight months alone. It makes you wonder whether the agency will begin estimating the populations of those countries downward accordingly.

Put another way, 431,209 Northern Triangle nationals have been apprehended by this year, just less than 5,000 more people than live in Oakland, Calif., a city with its own major league baseball team, and for the time being, its own NFL and NBA teams. It is almost 7,000 people more than live in Minneapolis, Minn., which again has its own major league baseball, NFL, and NBA teams.

These numbers provide a broader picture of the more shocking points that acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan discussed during a May 30, 2019, phone call with the press about the unfolding disaster at the U.S. border, a call I detailed in a June 1, 2019, post. Among the points in that phone call that I highlighted were the following:

  • "Over the past 21 days, an average of over 4,500 people have crossed our border illegally or arrived at ports of entry without documents. In May of 2017, that number was less than 700 a day. The month of May is on pace to be the highest month in crossings in over 12 years and will significantly surpass the record 109,000 in April."
  • "U.S. immigration authorities now have over 80,000 people in custody, a record level that is beyond sustainable capacity with current resources. Over 7,500 single adults are in custody at the border and Immigration and Customs Enforcement is holding over 50,000."
  • "Over 2,350 unaccompanied children — the highest level ever — are currently in custody waiting for days for placements in border stations that cannot provide appropriate conditions for them because Health and Human Services is out of bed space and Congress has failed to act on the administration's emergency supplemental request for more than four weeks."
  • A five- and a 10-month old drowned in a river transiting Mexico to the United States in the last few days.
  • More than 75,000 families have already transited through Mexico to the Southwest border this month alone.
  • More than 4,000 foreign nationals appeared at the border this year with children that they fraudulently claimed were their own, a number that is increasing.
  • "At any given moment, up to 100,000 migrants are transiting Mexico on their way to the U.S. border."

Back in March, when reviewing the apprehension numbers for February 2019, I referred to the situation along the border as "A Congress-and court-caused Katrina". Total CBP apprehensions (both by the Border Patrol and at the ports of entry) that month were (again) "only" 76,533. I am running out of analogies to describe how increasingly bad the situation at the border is, but in terms of the humanitarian costs, the "Johnstown flood" comes to mind.

In an eye-opening interview with Stephanie Hamill of the Daily Caller, Guatemalan Minister of Governance Enrique Degenhart explained some of the causes and effects of the exodus of that country's nationals. He stated that the "macroeconomic numbers" in Guatemala "are very good. We have actually the lowest criminal rates in the country that we have had for the past 15 or 20 years. Which means that the [departure of Guatemalan nationals is] probably not a factor of economics or security."

Instead, he pointed to pull factors from Mexico that were encouraging the northward movement of migrants. He explained that Mexico has been granting "visas and other kinds of work permits and situations" that "enhance the interests of our Guatemalans in using Mexico on the route to get to the U.S." He agreed that most of the Guatemalans are "economic migrants", and are coming to this country looking for jobs.

He did not want to discourage those Guatemalans who are leaving to legitimately look for asylum, but contended that there are "different processes that can be solved either in-country or in a neighboring country that does not necessarily mean that they have to come up [to the United States] in an irregular way." He asserted that the Guatemalan government is effectively adjudicating asylum claims, and that Guatemala is a better country for those seeking assistance than Mexico.

With respect to the departure of its nationals, he admitted that Guatemala would not be feeling the effects in the short term, but that in the near future and in a few years Guatemala "will be skipping a generation." "When minors are being taken on the route," he contended, "that is something that we have to worry about." He expressed a feeling that there is an "additional activity" leading to the departure of minors that "may be a criminal activity." The minister specifically referred to a case of a 50-year-old national of a Central American country who was arrested and prosecuted after purchasing a six-month-old baby to facilitate his entry into the United States. For $100.

Transnational criminal organizations, he contended, are well-organized and have a "marketing organization" that uses various popular social media to "put out offers" to the Guatemalan population. He also complained about the disconnect between the pictures of Guatemalans who have successfully made it to the United States (which are shown in the country), and the risks along the route, which are not. He referred in particular to a case of a 20- to 30-year-old male who had been raped several times along the journey to the United States, arriving in distress when he was apprehended. Afterwards, however, Minister Degenhart suggested that this individual took pictures that he sent back "giving the message he was having a great life" in this country.

The minister was not concerned about President Trump's threats to cut off foreign aid, as the largest percentage of such funding was going to NGOs, although he admitted that some went to law enforcement in Guatemala. He asserted, with some pride, that the country did not want to ask for money, and that it had money. He did state that it wanted to work cooperatively with its partners, however.

He recognized that Guatemala was a "bottleneck" for those coming north, but he saw the country as a perfect place for the United States to control that flow, including through "chokepoints" within the country. He asserted that Guatemala is hiring police and border officers, and that it would be receiving assistance from the Border Patrol and CBP in terms of intelligence and "best practices" to close off that flow. He compared that effort to "a wall".

Minister Degenhart identified the three biggest steps that Guatemala was taking to control this migrant flow: legal analysis of its regional transit agreements to ensure they were not exploited, actions to ensure minors do not get abused, and engagement with Mexico to change the benefits that it offers migrants, which he asserted were undermining Guatemala's efforts to impede migration.

The bad news is that illegal migration to the United States is, and has been, on the rise. The good news is that the administration has foreign allies who claim they are willing to help control that flow. If only the president's domestic allies and opposition on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue would do the same, the humanitarian crisis at the border could be stopped.