Border Patrol Set New Records for Apprehensions of Children, Families in FY 2022

The humanitarian disaster is lost in the late-night ‘news dump’

By Andrew R. Arthur on October 28, 2022

Lost in the Biden administration’s late-night “news dump” last week of CBP’s FY 2022 Southwest border statistics are two overlooked facts: Not only did Border Patrol agents set new yearly records for apprehensions in FY 2022 (breaking the old one set under the first partial fiscal year of the Biden administration by roughly 25 percent), but they also apprehended more unaccompanied alien children (UACs) and alien adults entering illegally with children in family units (FMUs) than in any prior fiscal year in history. That underscores the fact that the chaos created by Biden is a humanitarian disaster unfolding in real time.

Numbers in Brief. In September, Border Patrol agents at the Southwest border apprehended more than 207,000 illegal migrants. It was the last month of the federal government’s fiscal year, and in FY 2022, Border Patrol apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico line totaled 2.2 million-plus, exceeding even my dour estimates.

In total, Border Patrol agents at the Southwest border beat their prior apprehension record — again, set under Biden’s first partial fiscal year in FY 2021 — by about a quarter. Biden asserted at a press conference in late March 2021 that a the surge in illegal entries during his first two months in office was just a seasonal blip. Numbers don’t lie, and we now know that’s not the case.

Unaccompanied Alien Children. In FY 2022, agents at the Southwest border apprehended more than 149,000 unaccompanied alien children. That beat the prior record — set in FY 2021 — by just over 4,000 UACs.

Under a problematic 2008 law, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), DHS is required to transfer UACs from “non-contiguous countries” (i.e., countries other than Mexico and Canada) to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) within 72 hours, most for placement with “sponsors” in the United States.

Why do I call the TVPRA a “problematic law”? Because even President Obama realized it was preventing DHS from controlling the border, and in June 2014 he sent a letter to Congress asking it to fix that “non-contiguous” country loophole. Congress failed to act, and Biden has not sent a similar request to the Hill for action, even as UAC numbers have surged.

More than 123,000 of those UACs apprehended by agents at the Southwest border in FY 2022 (nearly 83 percent) were not from Mexico or Canada, and HHS has struggled to deal with the load.

It has gotten so bad for that department that the Biden administration had lost nearly 20,000 children it had released as of March, and a September report from the HHS Inspector General’s Office found that it had lost some of the ones still in its custody, too.

How bad are the FY 2022 numbers? Last fiscal year, agents apprehended more than twice as many UACs than they did in FY 2014 when Obama asked Congress to fix the TVPRA, and more UACs than they had in FY 2018 and 2019 combined, by more than 23,000 — a particularly troubling fact considering that the surge in children and families was so bad in FY 2019 that the Trump administration had to declare a “border emergency”. I’ll return to that below.

Further, the Biden administration largely exempted UACs from mandatory expulsion orders issued by the CDC pursuant to Title 42 of the U.S. Code in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Consequently, just seven unaccompanied children apprehended by Border Patrol agents at the Southwest border in FY 2022 were expelled under Title 42. Not 700. Not 7,000. Seven.

Just 16 UACs have been expelled since February 2021, the first full month of the Biden administration — which likely explains, in part, why their numbers continue to surge.

Family Units. In FY 2022, nearly 483,000 illegal migrants in family units were apprehended by Border Patrol agents at the U.S.-Mexico line. That broke the previous record, set in FY 2019, by 9,280 aliens. Worse, the trendlines are headed in the wrong direction — FY 2022 totals exceeded FY 2021 FMU numbers by nearly 32,000.

Just over 116,000 of those aliens in family units — almost 102,000 of them from Mexico and the “Northern Triangle” countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras — were expelled under Title 42. Nearly 387,000 other aliens in FMUs were processed for removal in the United States, almost all likely released into the United States — where they will remain indefinitely, if not forever.

Why It Matters. Border Patrol facilities — stations and processing centers — were mostly built in the late 1990s and early 2000s, at a time when almost all illegal entrants were single adult male Mexican nationals, who could be processed and removed in eight hours. They were not intended for families and children, and all the workarounds and retrofits in the world won’t make them fit for that purpose.

You don’t have to believe me on any of this. As then-DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen explained when she declared the border emergency in March 2019:

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.”


Our border stations were not designed to hold young people for extended periods, yet this influx has forced thousands of them into facilities that are getting crowded and overwhelmed.

The Biden administration contends that its feckless border policies, which are encouraging this UAC and FMU flood, are part of an effort to build “a safe, orderly, and humane immigration system”. As Nielsen noted in her declaration, however:

My gravest concern is for children. They are arriving sicker than ever before and are exploited along the treacherous trek. Smugglers and traffickers know that our laws make it easier to enter and stay if you show up as a family. So they are using children as a ‘free ticket’ into America, and have in some cases even used kids multiple times — recycling them — to help more aliens get into the United States. ... This goes well beyond politics. We must come together to find a way to tackle the crisis and reduce the flows so children are not put at risk. Any system that encourages a parent to send their child alone on this terrible journey — where they are exploited, pawned, and recycled — is completely broken.

Nielsen’s comments about the harms inflicted on and danger faced by children coming illegally to the United States (voluntarily or otherwise) were echoed in an April 2019 bipartisan report issued by a panel of the Homeland Security Advisory Council, which found:

Migrant children are traumatized during their journey to and into the U.S. The journey from Central America through Mexico to remote regions of the U.S. border is a dangerous one for the children involved, as well as for their parent. There are credible reports that female parents of minor children have been raped, that many migrants are robbed, and that they and their child are held hostage and extorted for money.

Criminal migrant smuggling organizations are preying upon these desperate populations, encouraging their migration to the border despite the dangers, especially in remote places designed to overwhelm existing [Border Patrol] infrastructure, and extorting migrants along the way, thereby reaping millions of dollars for themselves and the drug cartels who also charge money to cross the border.

None of that has changed since 2019, except, as noted, the number of unaccompanied children and aliens in family units has increased, in the case of UACs significantly. And yet, under the guise of humanity and compassion, the Biden administration has allowed the problems detailed by the then-secretary and in that bipartisan panel’s report to fester.

Congress — either the current one or the next, 118th, Congress will have to step in to address the vulnerabilities that have created this flood of unaccompanied children and families at the border. When it does, it should abandon all pretext and pretension, and ask what is truly best — for those children and for border security. If they do, they will close the loopholes — created with the best of intentions but creating the worst of results — that have fostered this humanitarian disaster.