CBP ‘Buries the Lede’ in Rosy February Press Release

It is past time for the president to get serious about how bad the Southwest border has become

By Andrew R. Arthur on March 18, 2022

My March 16 post on CBP illegal migrant encounters at the Southwest border last month was captioned “CBP Encounters at the Southwest Border Rose in February: Nearly 2.2 million migrants caught in the first 12 full months of the Biden administration — not counting 500,000 ‘got-aways’”. For its part, CBP offered a rosier take in the press release for its “Monthly Operational Update”. The difference is that the agency “buried the lede” about serious problems at the border in that release.

The Issues with Commissioner Magnus’s Take. Here is how CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus described the February encounter numbers in the first paragraph of that release: “February also registered a slight uptick in the number of encounters along the Southwest border, with most individuals arriving from Mexico and the Northern Triangle, and the majority of noncitizens expelled under Title 42.”

Those facts are all true (although “slight” is a subjective term). Apprehensions rose 7 percent over January — meaning that they are headed in the wrong direction for purposes of border security.

And note that former DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson explained that more than 1,000 border apprehensions in a day “was a relatively bad number”. Border Patrol averaged nearly 5,650 apprehensions per day at the Southwest border in February. What then would be 5.6 times 1,000 apprehensions? Not good, or anything for CBP to soft-peddle.

Consistent with CBP’s press release, and as I mentioned in my earlier post, the number of illegal migrants apprehended in February who are not Mexican nationals (OTMs) or from the “Northern Triangle” countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras (ONTs) declined in February, to 53,079 from 61,005 the month before.

That said, 53,079 OTM/ONTs is still a staggering number, especially since the 13 percent month-to-month decline in OTM/ONT apprehensions in February occurred in a month that only had 90 percent as many days as January. “Math is hard”, but factoring that out, there was hardly a decline at all.

Putting that figure into context, in all of FY 2019 — a year that saw so many illegal migrants that then-DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen declared a “border emergency” in March 2019 — just 77,276 OTM/ONTs — total — were apprehended at the Southwest border.

In other words, Border Patrol apprehended nearly 68.7 percent as many “long-distance migrants” in February (a 28-day month) as it did in what was then considered to be a dire fiscal year from an illegal immigration perspective.

Magnus can be forgiven for not knowing how bad things are. He is not only new to the job of CBP commissioner (he was only confirmed on December 8), but he is also new to immigration enforcement. Prior to taking the job, he was police chief in Fargo, N.D., and Richmond, Calif. (in the San Francisco Bay Area) before he became police chief for the city of Tucson just over six years ago.

And, yes, it is true that most (56.4 percent) of the 158,132 illegal migrants apprehended by Border Patrol in February were expelled under CDC orders issued in response to the Covid-19 pandemic under Title 42 of the U.S. Code.

That means, however, that nearly 68,900 other illegal migrants were processed under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and not expelled under Title 42. Some, many, or most of them were simply released into the United States. It would be good to know that number, but Magnus isn’t telling us.

The Buried Surge in Unaccompanied Alien Children Apprehensions. CBP also pats itself on the back for the fact that “More than three-fourths (76 percent) of encounters were single adults, with 126,151 encounters in February, an 11 percent increase compared to January.” That is also true.

Read a few more paragraphs down, however, and you will find the following:

Encounters of unaccompanied children increased 37 percent, with 12,011 encounters in February compared with 8,760 in January. In February, the average number of unaccompanied children in CBP custody was 520 per day, compared with an average of 295 per day in January.

That is exceptionally bad news. The Biden administration has already lost nearly 20,000 unaccompanied alien children (UACs) who had been in its custody, which is not a surprise given the fact that it is doing a questionable job of placing UACs with sponsors in the United States. For purposes of the safety of the children (if not also for border security) CBP does not need those numbers to be increasing.

Most of the UAC problems the administration is facing are directly attributable to the overwhelming surge of UACs who have crossed into the United States illegally since Biden took office. Between February 2021 and February 2022, Border Patrol apprehended more than 183,600 unaccompanied children at the Southwest border. That’s larger than the population of Providence, R.I.

More saliently, however, more UACs have been apprehended there in just the first five months of FY 2022 (58,503) than in all of FY 2015 (39,970), FY 2017 (41,435), FY 2018 (50,036), or FY 2020 (30,557). And more UACs were apprehended in February at the Southwest border than in any month prior to Biden taking office.

Biden bears most of the responsibility for the UAC surge that he is now facing. His campaign rhetoric made clear that he would be reversing Trump’s border policies that had kept numbers low, and that he would be releasing UACs into the United States as quickly as possible.

As he stated on the second line of his campaign’s immigration website: “It is a moral failing and a national shame when ... children are locked away in overcrowded detention centers and the government seeks to keep them there indefinitely.”

The Trump administration did not “lock away” children “indefinitely”, but when it was faced with its own migrant surge, it did scramble to find shelters for them. And I defended Biden when his administration had to do the same thing.

That said, the Trump administration expelled UACs under Title 42, a policy that Biden quickly reversed. That reversal is currently the subject of litigation in Texas.

And as the CBP press release reveals, Biden has created a scenario that he previously decried. Border Patrol custody is no place for a child; facilities lack the space and were never intended for children. In February, however, the number of children in Border Patrol custody spiked by 76 percent as UAC apprehensions grew 37 percent from the month before.

Another data point that CBP did not deem important enough to share was how long those children were in its custody in February before they were released to shelters. That was a problem in January, and it likely hasn’t gotten much better since then.

Biden Must Get Serious About the Border. The Southwest border is an unmitigated disaster. Agents are overworked and resources are limited, while the largest migrant surge in the nation’s history continues unabated. Regardless of what you may hear, there are two few agents and too few resources to stop drugs, contraband, and objectively bad people from coming in.

But rather than placing a seasoned immigration professional in charge of CBP — the country’s primary border security agency — the president installed a former police chief whose sole qualification for the job (according to CBP’s website) is that he was the top cop in a city 70 miles from the border for less than six years and that in that position “improved police interactions with Tucson’s large immigrant community”. I trust that he is a good man, but nothing suggests that he is up to the challenge.

CBP’s press release is not a serious document. There are real — and potentially deadly — threats facing our nation from abroad. Trust me — unlike Commissioner Magnus, I have been doing this for decades. It is well past time for the president to appoint serious and experienced people to deal with this disaster — and to tell the American people the truth about what is happening at the Southwest border.