Border Patrol Apprehensions at the Southwest Border Reach 21-Year Monthly High

Paging Jeh Johnson: If 1,000 daily apprehensions ‘overwhelms the system’, what do 5,782 do?

By Andrew R. Arthur on May 12, 2021

CBP has finally released statistics on Southwest border encounters for April. No matter how the agency spins the numbers, they are not good, with Border Patrol apprehensions reaching a 21-year monthly high. President Biden may want to consult former DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson for advice — and a reality check.

There were 178,622 CBP encounters at the Southwest border last month, up 3 percent from March (when there were 173,348). “Encounters” are the combined total of Border Patrol migrant apprehensions plus aliens deemed inadmissible at the ports along that border, but the vast majority of encounters in April — more than 97 percent, or 173,460 — were Border Patrol apprehensions.

You have to go all the way back to April 2000 to find a month with more apprehensions. Last month 21 years ago, Border Patrol apprehended 180,050 migrants at the Southwest border. That comparison, however, does not paint how bad the crisis at the Southwest border was in April.

April 2000 was 17 months before September 11, 2001. Following the terrorist attacks that day, Congress flooded an overwhelmed Border Patrol with resources, and the border was beefed up significantly.

Note that in October 2001, with the country reeling and border security a high priority, Border Patrol made a total of 37,812 apprehensions at the Southwest border — just 21.8 percent as many as they made last month. Legislators knew then how important border security was to national security, a lesson that has been seemingly forgotten in Washington, D.C.

In addition, before 2011, 90 percent of illegal entrants were single adult males, and before 2009, 90 percent were Mexican nationals. Those migrants can be quickly processed and repatriated in about eight hours, and CBP facilities were built to accommodate such aliens for a brief period of time.

Last month, by contrast, 48,226 of the migrants apprehended by Border Patrol were in “family units” (FMUs) — that is children and accompanying adults. Those migrants take days to process, and CBP must scramble to accommodate them in makeshift facilities.

In addition, just short of 17,000 (16,933 to be exact) of those migrants were unaccompanied alien children (UACs). Again, CBP really does not have permanent infrastructure for those kids, and by law, most are supposed to be transferred to Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) custody within 72 hours.

CBP met that benchmark last month (an agency press release lauding its efforts stated that UACs are now in its custody for a still unacceptable 28 hours), but that is only because the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) stepped into to help HHS establish temporary shelters for those children.

We as taxpayers are now shown pictures of CBP’s temporary facilities, but we have not seen many from inside of those HHS emergency shelters.

We should be (we are paying for them after all), because on May 11, AP reported that at least five of them are holding more than 1,000 children apiece, and that “about a dozen unlicensed emergency facilities inside military installations, stadiums and convention centers ... skirt state regulations and don’t require traditional legal oversight.”

I have seen this scenario before, and if the thought of paying $775 per day per child for those facilities is daunting, wait until you are on the hook to pay for the inevitable resulting litigation.

AP reports “court records show the Biden administration is working to settle several multimillion-dollar lawsuits that claim migrant children were abused in shelters under President Donald Trump,” but a difference in personality and approach between the two men does not mean the bill this time will be any lower.

Just to close the loop, fewer than 38 percent (65,555) of the total migrants apprehended by Border Patrol last month were Mexican nationals, as were just more than 5 percent of the migrants in family units and less than 1.5 percent of the unaccompanied children.

The rest are from somewhere else, meaning that the children (at a minimum) are likely here indefinitely. While Biden continues to use Trump-era orders from the CDC issued in response to the pandemic under Title 42 of the U.S. Code to expel other migrants (including non-Mexican nationals in family units), not many FMUs were actually expelled under Title 42 in March.

CBP’s press release talks about its use of Title 42, but is curiously quiet on just how many migrants in family units were actually expelled under that authority in April. I guess we will just have to wait for leaks.

That said, Border Patrol apprehended 108,301 single adult migrants last month, and expelled 109,963 under Title 42, so we can likely do the math. All those family migrants not expelled are likely here for the long haul, too.

The press has highlighted the fact that the numbers of aliens in family units and unaccompanied children apprehended at the Southwest border was lower last month than in March.

That’s true, but the difference is one of degree — not severity. The number of UACs apprehended last month was still the second highest in any month for which Border Patrol keeps monthly records (back to October 2009), and higher than the total number of UACs apprehended in all of FY 2011 (15,949).

Similarly, those 48,226 migrants in family units were the sixth-highest monthly total for which Border Patrol keeps records (back to October 2012), surpassed only by the month before and by four months (March to June) at the height of the “border emergency” in 2019.

That border emergency was declared in March 2019, in large part due to the influx of families and children at the Southwest border. The White House has shied away from even terming the current situation a “crisis”, and in fact, the president claims that his administration has “gotten control” of the situation there.

I am not sure that Johnson, DHS secretary under the Obama-Biden administration, would agree.

In a March 2019 interview, he explained that, when he had headed DHS, he got daily updates on border apprehensions, viewing fewer than 1,000 apprehensions a day “a relatively good number, and if it was above 1,000 it was a relatively bad number, and I was gonna be in a bad mood the whole day”.

Looking at then-current statistics under the Trump administration showing 4,000 apprehensions per day, Johnson stated: “I know that a thousand overwhelms the system. I cannot begin to imagine what 4,000 a day looks like, so we are truly in a crisis”.

In May, there were an average of 5,782 Border Patrol apprehensions per day at the Southwest border. That is 44.5 percent more than 4,000 apprehensions, meaning that we will need a stronger word than just “crisis” to describe the current situation there, and that current DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas had a bad April.

FEMA shows up when there are “disasters” — hurricanes, earthquakes, and the such. Given the fact that they are helping out at the Southwest border now, we should probably adopt that word to describe the situation there. Of course, I would also be interested in hearing what Jeh Johnson has to say.