CBP Releases January Border Numbers — Early

Hours before the Mayorkas impeachment vote, and as DHS threatens to cut migrant detention

By Andrew R. Arthur on February 15, 2024

As I’ve explained previously, CBP usually releases its monthly border encounter numbers on the 15th of the following month. When the numbers are bad, however, Biden’s CBP delays the releases, usually until late on a Friday in what’s referred to in D.C. as a “news dump”. The January numbers came early this month, though, on February 13, coincidentally (or not) hours before DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas faced an impeachment vote in the House. The latest CBP statistics show things at the border were better last month than they were in December — the worst in history — but don’t expect it to last.

For definitional purposes, the term “encounters” refers to both apprehensions of illegal entrants by Border Patrol agents between the ports of entry and the aliens deemed inadmissible at those ports.

Border Patrol Southwest Border Apprehensions. Last month, Border Patrol agents at the Southwest border apprehended more than 124,000 illegal migrants at the Southwest border, a roughly 50 percent drop compared to December’s record total of nearly 250,000 apprehensions.

The five Texas Border Patrol sectors — Rio Grande Valley (RGV), Laredo, Del Rio, Big Bend, and El Paso — accounted for just over 44,000 of those apprehensions, or approximately 35 percent. By contrast, the four sectors west of El Paso — Tucson, Yuma (Ariz.), El Centro (Calif.), and San Diego tabbed 80,000-plus apprehensions.

That’s more apprehensions in those western sectors combined in a single month than in any month under the Biden administration aside from the last four, September to December. Alternatively, while the apprehensions declined by 65 percent in the Texas sectors, the western sectors saw a much more modest 35 percent decline. Illegal entries are shifting westward.

There are three factors that likely drove the decline in Border Patrol encounters across the border between December and January. First, December, as noted, set new records for apprehensions, so the baseline was exceptionally high. That December spike was likely driven by smugglers’ concerns that then-ongoing Senate negotiations may have resulted in real border reforms (they didn’t, which is why they failed).

Second is a development my colleague Todd Bensman broke last month — a massive effort by the Mexican government to both secure its own southern border and to slow the illegal migration of “other than Mexican” (OTM) migrants through the country, in response to unknown incentives offered by the Biden White House.

Third is the fact that January is traditionally the slowest illegal “travel month” of the year, with the lowest number of apprehensions. The weather is at its worst at the border then, and would-be migrants usually don’t leave home until holiday celebrations are over.

The marked decline in apprehensions in those Texas sectors, however, is likely at least in part a tribute to “Operation Lone Star”, that state’s effort to support Border Patrol agents with infrastructure and assistance from Texas state troopers and National Guard troops.

Texas expanded that operation in the weeks prior to the end of Title 42 on May 11, when it began installing concertina wire (“c-wire”) barriers along the Rio Grande near metropolitan areas on the U.S. side of the river to deter illegal cross-border drug-smuggling and migration.

All indications are that Border Patrol is grateful for both the state police and National Guard assistance and the barriers, with the exception of one 29-mile stretch of the border in Maverick County. CBP began destroying the barriers in that segment of the border in September, sending the state to federal court to intervene.

The Supreme Court blocked a circuit-court order that would have prevented further destruction of that c-wire fencing in late January, but curiously (or not) there have been few recent reports of CBP uprooting those barriers since then.

The border in Texas — and the RGV in particular — is closer in distance to Mexico’s own southern border than any other stretch of our shared international boundary, which explains why RGV sector received the lion’s share of illegal migrants before Lone Star went into effect.

In February 2021, more than 29 percent of all Border Patrol encounters at the Southwest border were in the RGV alone; in January, less than 6 percent were. Most tellingly, RGV apprehensions last month were just 57 percent of what they were in January 2021 — and during two-thirds of that month, Donald Trump was still president.

Southwest Port Encounters. Notwithstanding the fact that Southwest border apprehensions dropped by half between December and January, CBP encounters at the ports there kept chugging along, as nearly 52,000 aliens were stopped by CBP officers there last month.

That was a miniscule, 0.5 percent, decline compared to December, and actually a 1.3 percent increase compared to November.

A January 2023 White House initiative crafted to hide the scope of the border crisis allows aliens with no documents and no right to enter the United States — both Mexican nationals and OTMs — in central and northern Mexico to preschedule their illegal entries at the Southwest border ports using the CBP One app — a policy I’ve referred to as the “CBP One app interview scheme”.

CBP offers 1,450 interview slots daily at the Southwest border for users of the app, and the agency’s monthly update for January admits that CBP officers at the ports “processed approximately 45,000 individuals” who made appointments via the app last month.

Although the White House claimed when it rolled out that scheme that those aliens are “seeking to enter the United States lawfully”, in reality, they’re inadmissible because they lack entry documents, so they therefore register as encounters when they appear. That’s why those port encounters rose 643 percent last month compared to January 2022 (approximately 7,000 total encounters).

Mayorkas's Impeachment. Earlier this month, the House Homeland Security Committee reported out a resolution containing two articles of impeachment against DHS Secretary Mayorkas, sending that resolution to the House floor for a vote.

A first attempt to pass the resolution three days later was stymied by the absence (for cancer treatment) of Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) and votes against the measure by GOP Reps. Ken Buck (Colo.), Mike Gallagher (Wisc.), Tom McClintock (Calif.), and Blake Moore (Utah).

Buck, Gallagher, and McClintock oppose the Mayorkas impeachment for their own reasons, but each argues it would set a bad precedent that could haunt future Republican cabinet members.

Moore’s opposition, however, was strategic. Flipping his initial yea vote to a nay and voting against the resolution allowed Moore under House rules to bring a motion to reconsider the matter, and in fact he made such a motion after the votes were tallied.

A formal vote on that motion was postponed until Scalise could appear, and finally scheduled for the evening of February 13. The resolution passed on a final tally of 214 yeas to 213 nays, with Buck, Gallagher, and McClintock joining 210 Democrats in voting against the measure. The rest of the GOP members — except Brian Mast and Maria Salazar, both of Florida, who couldn’t appear — voted in favor.

Speaking of strategy, the timing of the release of the CBP border numbers showing a decline in Border Patrol apprehensions — two days early and just 17 days after the December stats appeared — on the same day the DHS secretary was up for an impeachment vote may be just a coincidence, but I doubt it.

Those articles of impeachment focus on Mayorkas’ role in the border crisis he’s overseen as secretary (the word “border” appears 39 times therein), and it wouldn’t surprise me if he had deliberately tried to sway a couple crucial votes by releasing the border stats to show that things are improving.

Neither the American people nor the secretary should get comfortable with what is likely a short-term blip.

Much will depend on whether the Mexican government continues its efforts to control immigration on the other side of the line, but smugglers are unlikely to declare defeat and go home; there’s too much money yet to be made exploiting would-be migrants on the front end and the American people on the back.

As long as the administration refuses to take the actions it can to secure our border, the smugglers will adjust to whatever Mexico City cooks up. The White House’s response so far is not promising.

Biden’s ICE Threatens to Cut Detention. The failure of the Senate border bill — which included $6 billion in supplemental DHS funding — to pass a test vote has, according to a Washington Post report this week, “led ICE officials to begin circulating an internal proposal to save money by releasing thousands of detainees and cutting detention levels from 38,000 beds to 22,000”.

That, the Post notes dryly, would be “the opposite of the enforcement increases Republicans say they want”.

Biden went all in on that Senate bill (likely because it gave him the Ukraine funding he wanted while doing little to advance border security), and its defeat left the president blaming Donald Trump for its demise.

Here’s an excerpt of Biden’s remarks last Friday before the House Democratic Caucus in Leesburg, Va.:

The bottom line is Republicans have to decide: Who do they serve? This is — I’m not — this is not hyperbole. Who do they serve: Donald Trump or the American people?

You have worked so hard — a bipartisan group — so hard for so long to deal with the border and all the other issues we have in that — in that appropriation. And guess what? Donald Trump allegedly — I can’t prove this; I’m told — called people and said, “If you support that, I’m coming after you.” Not his — not — I don’t know what the exact words were, but “I’m coming after you.”

Are they here to solve a problem or just to weaponize for political attacks those problems? [Emphasis added.]

Plainly, if Biden could have “proven” those allegations against the former president, he would have, but it doesn’t matter because it’s become widely accepted as the truth by nearly all in the media.

That said, the Post reporting suggests that while somebody’s “weaponizing” the border crisis, it likely isn’t Trump or the president’s other political opponents. To paraphrase your friendly neighborhood mafioso, “Nice border you got here; be a shame if something happened to it.”

To be fair, though, the administration has long sought to limit if not end immigration detention. On his 2020 campaign website, then-candidate Joe Biden vowed to “end prolonged detention” of migrants, arguing that:

proven alternatives to detention and non-profit case management programs … support migrants as they navigate their legal obligations, [and] are the best way to ensure that they attend all required immigration appointments. These programs also enable migrants to live in dignity and safety while awaiting their court hearings — facilitating things like doctor visits, social services, and school enrollment for children. Evidence shows that these programs are highly effective and are far less expensive and punitive than detaining families. [Emphasis added.]

My colleague Jon Feere recently proved that so-called “alternatives to detention” — those “case management programs” Biden was touting — are actually both costly and ineffective. And it’s been black-letter law for more than a century that immigration detention isn’t “punitive”.

As for the “doctor visits, social services, and school[ing]”, the federal government pays those costs while aliens are in DHS custody. Once DHS releases border migrants, however, it foists those costs onto the cities and states. Ask New York City Mayor Eric Adams how that’s working out.

True to his campaign promises, however, Biden has asked Congress to cut funds for DHS beds in his last two fiscal year budget requests, from 34,000 per day (the current level) to 25,000; 22,000 beds per day would just advance his expressed anti-detention agenda.

It’s questionable (to say the least) whether congressional Republicans will let Biden get away with this ploy; they could — and likely should — triple or quadruple current detention funding. That said, cutting detention funding would simply encourage even more would-be migrants to pay even more money to smugglers to come here, safe in the knowledge they’ll soon be living freely in the United States.

All of this is unseemly: The curiously timed release of the January border numbers hours before the vote on Mayorkas’ impeachment; ICE’s leak to the Post that it may have to cut detention because Biden didn’t get his way on the border bill; and the president’s deflection of blame for his legislative border failures onto his political opponents.

The time for partisan gamesmanship on the disaster that is the Southwest border has long since passed; it’s time for real leadership from the president to resolve the border crisis he’s created. Unfortunately, leadership — like detention beds — is a scarce commodity in Washington, D.C., these days.