CBP Revises Up Its 2021 Estimates of Unaccompanied Child Border Arrivals

As polling shows strong disapproval of Biden’s handling of the border

By Andrew R. Arthur on April 7, 2021

Axios reported last week that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) — the DHS component that polices U.S. borders and ports — has raised its projections of the number of unaccompanied alien children who will be apprehended entering illegally this year, with estimates of up to 26,000 by September. That would further strain limited government resources, and is especially bad news for the Biden administration, as recent polling already shows the president in the red on immigration.

As I reported in early March, Border Patrol apprehended almost 9,300 unaccompanied children in February. That was a 63 percent increase over the month before, when it apprehended fewer than 5,700 unaccompanied children. Those numbers are bad, for a number of reasons.

First, February is traditionally the second-slowest month for apprehensions at the border (as even immigration proponents admit).

Second, you have to go all the way back to May 2019 to find a single month in which apprehensions of unaccompanied children were higher (by 19 percent, at 11,475). But the month of May is usually the peak for illegal entries, and FY 2019 was an outlier in a number of ways, as Trump struggled to control the border during a massive surge (without much help from his political opponents).

The crisis in 2019 was especially problematic for child migrants, who languished in Border Patrol facilities that were not built to house them — period — and definitely not built to house them for any extended period of time. Rather than addressing the problem, many in Congress and the media then simply demagogued the issue for political gain.

May 2019 was the recorded peak for apprehensions of unaccompanied children, with the prior record being 10,620 in June 2014. Like Trump, the then-Obama administration struggled to respond, and Border Patrol was forced to house children on military bases.

Those children are supposed to be placed within 72 hours in shelters that are contracted for by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), but HHS has limited shelter capacity (true in 2014, 2019, and today), and in the recent surge, there are reports that the department is “cutting corners” to move thousands of children out of overcrowded Border Patrol facilities.

The outcries over housing conditions at the border are bipartisan this time around (although the blame is not), which means that, unlike Trump, Biden will probably be able to secure the funding he needs for an estimated 16,000 emergency beds for those children.

The president has not been helping his case, however, as in one instance a woman identified as a “Biden administration staffer” recently attempted to prevent Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) from filming the conditions at a migrant holding facility in Donna, Texas.

CBP’s revised estimates of 22,000 to 25,000 unaccompanied children arriving in May 2021 (the estimate had been what still would have been a new record of 13,000) only make the situation at the border grimmer. And the estimate of 22,000 to 26,000 apprehensions of unaccompanied alien children in September simply makes that bad picture worse, because HHS will still be playing catch-up when they arrive.

All of this is likely why the president’s immigration polling numbers are so bad — and are likely to get worse.

On April 5, AP/NORC released a poll that showed that while adults overall approve of the job that Biden is doing, he is way underwater when it comes to immigration, with 56 percent disapproving of his handling of the issue (42 percent approve), including — critically — 67 percent of swing-voting Independents.

Note, however, that Biden actually receives better marks on “border security” (although not by much), with 55 percent approving of his performance vs. 44 percent disapproving, including 62 percent of Independents who are not happy.

Digging down to the issue of unaccompanied children at the border, the numbers are equally bleak. Forty percent of those surveyed — including 43 percent of Independents — either “somewhat” or “strongly” disapproved of Biden’s performance with respect to them, compared to a measly 24 percent (including 11 percent of Independents) who approved, either somewhat or strongly.

Those results included 35 percent of respondents who neither approved nor disapproved (including 45 percent of Independents), meaning that the president still has room to fall, particularly if the situation at the border gets worse.

Put into real percentages, that means that 62.5 percent of those who had an opinion of Biden’s handling of children at the border had a negative one, while only 37.5 percent had a positive one. Almost 80 percent of Independents with an opinion had a negative one, compared to just over 20 percent who approved of the job the president is doing.

Given the fact that Biden is already in the hole on his handling of unaccompanied children at the Southwest border, and that CBP projects the monthly number of child migrants is going to more than double as 2021 rolls on, those should be troubling signs.

This shift, curiously, is reflected even among immigration advocates. On March 24, I wrote a post captioned “WaPo Article: 'No Migrant Surge' at the Border, To the contrary, there is an historic surge, which is quickly becoming a humanitarian disaster”.

The headline of the Washington Post opinion piece (by researchers at the University of California at San Diego) that was the subject of my post originally read “There's no migrant 'surge' at the U.S. southern border. Here's the data.” It now reads: “The migrant ‘surge’ at the U.S. southern border is actually a predictable pattern.” Well, that’s a relief.

As Fox News noted on March 26, the headline was not the only thing that changed in that piece:

The revised piece also includes a section about the number of unaccompanied minors that wasn't originally there.

"What is more unusual at this moment is the increase in border crossings by unaccompanied minors, which appears to be more than just a seasonal pattern," the post now reads. "This poses a more distinctive challenge for the Biden administration, although it is also possible that there will be a similar drop in crossings by minors during the summer months.” [Emphasis added.]

Respectfully, the only way illegal entries by unaccompanied children will “drop” is if Congress fixes the 2008 law that encourages family members of unaccompanied children to pay the smugglers bringing them to the United States to begin with (as I have explained numerous times in the past), or if Biden reapplies Trump-era CDC pandemic Title 42 authorities to them to quickly expel them back home.

My guess is that CBP is not banking on either action. At least not until the polling numbers get even worse.