CBP Stats Reveal the World Is Coming Illegally to the Southwest Border

Nearly half of CBP encounters in FY 2024 involve ‘extra-continental’ aliens

By Andrew R. Arthur on May 29, 2024

In September 2022, I scanned through court-ordered disclosures and realized President Biden’s migrant crisis had “gone global”, with increasing numbers of aliens showing up illegally at the Southwest border from countries that hadn’t previously attracted a lot of illegal aliens to the United States. CBP’s latest statistics reveal that this trend has only gotten worse, with roughly half of the aliens encountered at the Southwest border in the first seven months of FY 2024 arriving from outside North America. That will be a tough trend to reverse for even the most dogged future administration.

Historical Trends. For decades, illegal entrants at the Southwest border were almost exclusively from Mexico. In FY 2000, for example, more than 97 percent of all Border Patrol apprehensions there were of Mexican nationals.

Beginning in FY 2014, however, the number of “other than Mexican” (OTM) migrants apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico line surpassed Mexican nationals (who made up 47.3 percent of the total), as illegal migration from the “Northern Triangle of Central America” countries (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) surged.

By FY 2019, nationals of the three Northern Triangle countries made up more than 71 percent of all Southwest border apprehensions, with 19.5 percent coming from Mexico directly and the remaining roughly 9.5 percent coming from farther afield, but most still in the general neighborhood (including 13,000-plus Nicaraguan nationals, more than 1.5 percent of the total).

FY 2021 saw a new and disturbing trend: The rise in not only OTM illegal migrants at the Southwest border, but illegal arrivals who were also “other than Northern Triangle” (ONT). Border Patrol apprehended more than 367,000 OTM/ONT aliens there in FY 2021, 22 percent of total Southwest border apprehensions that year.

Of course, January 2021, was when Joe Biden took office and quickly reversed nearly every Trump-era policy that had driven illegal entries down following a spike in entries that triggered a “border emergency” in the spring and summer of 2019.

Remain in Mexico. The most prominent — and most effective — Trump policy that Biden swiftly scrapped was the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), better known as “Remain in Mexico”.

Under MPP, aliens apprehended entering illegally were sent back across the border to await hearings on their asylum claims, where Mexico agreed to provide for them for the duration of their stays. That said, not only Mexican nationals were returned under Remain in Mexico; the program applied to OTMs and ONTs, as well.

As DHS determined in its October 2019 assessment of the program, MPP was “an indispensable tool in addressing the ongoing crisis at the southern border and restoring integrity to the immigration system”, particularly as related to alien families. Asylum cases were expedited under the program, and MPP removed incentives for aliens to make weak or bogus protection claims when apprehended.

Thus, it didn’t make sense for migrants from outside North America to pay tens of thousands of dollars to smugglers to travel illegally to the Southwest border only to be turned away and sent back across the line to await asylum decisions that likely wouldn’t go in their favor.

“Indispensable” or not, Biden stopped sending new migrants back across the border under MPP once he took office, and then his DHS secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, ended the program (twice). State court challenges to the cessation of MPP, initially successful, were ultimately hobbled by the Supreme Court in June 2022, and no migrant has been returned under the program in nearly two years.

The Limits of Title 42 Expulsions. The one quasi-border policy the Biden administration retained from Trump was “Title 42”, a program premised on CDC orders directing the expulsion of illegal border migrants to slow the introduction and spread of Covid-19.

The problem when Title 42 was in effect was that — under Biden — Mexico refused to accept the return of expelled OTM/ONT migrants. Thus, to the degree Title 42 was effective from FY 2021 onward, it only slowed the flow of Mexican and Northern Triangle nationals, nobody else.

Nearly every Southwest border migrant who was apprehended while Title 42 was in effect who wasn’t expelled — at least 88.5 percent by my conservative estimates — was instead released into the United States. And since Title 42 ended in early May 2023, the administration has largely relied on the Mexican government for any semblance of U.S. border security.

That flipped the MPP-era economic calculus that I described above on its head: Now, it’s cost-effective for foreign nationals from outside North America to pay staggering sums to smugglers, knowing that once they arrive illegally, they’d be able to make back that payment and more by working here.

That’s a big part of the reason why illegal migration from Venezuela has mushroomed in the past three years, from 1,227 Southwest border apprehensions in FY 2020 to more than 200,000 in FY 2023.

Those aliens also benefit from the tenuous diplomatic relationship between Caracas and Washington; even if they are somehow ordered removed, they know DHS won’t be able to obtain the travel documents it needs to deport them because the Venezuelan government won’t pony them up.

The FY 2024 Global Surge to the Southwest Border. In March 2020, with the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic, DHS began using the term “encounter” to describe both Border Patrol apprehensions and aliens deemed inadmissible by CBP officers at the ports of entry.

The latest CBP statistics reveal that in the first seven months of FY 2024 (September 2023 to last month), more than 1.16 illegal migrants have been apprehended at the Southwest border.

Nearly 512,000 of those aliens — 44 percent of total apprehensions at the Southwest border — were from farther away than Mexico, the Northern Triangle, or Nicaragua. Few if any aliens come illegally from Costa Rica or Panama, so it’s safe to say nearly all came here from outside of North America.

As bad as that statistic is, the total CBP Southwest border encounter numbers are worse.

Though the first seven months of FY 2024, CBP — both CBP officers at the Southwest border ports and agents between those ports — have encountered more than 1.52 million inadmissible “applicants for admission”, of whom nearly 750,000 were “other than Mexican”, “other than Northern Triangle”, and “other than Nicaraguan” aliens — 49.3 percent of the total.

That includes 27,700 Chinese nationals, 16,668 from India, 9,383 Russians, and 7,486 aliens from Turkey. And, most ominously, 106,298 aliens simply listed as from “Other”, that is some other country that is not in CBP’s top-20 source nations. As recently as FY 2021, there were just over 17,500 apprehensions, total.

That “Other” is where you find all of the nationals of African countries, all the people from Southeast Asia, and the untold numbers of Europeans (mostly Eastern Europeans, like the 857 Romanians who are specifically enumerated, but you’d be surprised at how many other EU nationals are likely on the list).

Extra-Continental Migration. My colleague Todd Bensman has used the term “extra-continental migration” to describe this novel trend of aliens from outside of North America showing up illegally at the U.S. Southwest border, and it’s both valid and descriptive.

There are two major issues with this recent extra-continental migration surge that will impede any future administration from regaining control of the Southwest border.

The first is that, thanks to the Biden administration’s release policies, smugglers from all around the world have now established routes to the United States that they can use for migrants from South America, Africa, Asia, and elsewhere. They have built relationships with confederates along those routes, and they know all the corrupt officials they have to grease on the way.

The second is that obtaining travel documents to return all of those “extra-continentals” requires a lot more resources than are needed for aliens from Mexico or the Northern Triangle. Mexican returns are basically a handshake deal, and when I was an immigration judge, consuls from the Northern Triangle would show up weekly to interview the latest batch of their nationals who were being deported.

There are no similar processes for aliens from China, Russia, India, or even Romania. Getting documents for nationals of those countries is a diplomatic dance, and foreign officials abroad are generally in no hurry to make it a waltz, let alone a samba.

At some point, a future administration will say “enough” and try to regain control of the Southwest border. The Biden administration’s border policies, however, are making that an increasingly difficult task, because illegal immigration is no longer a regional issue — it’s “gone global”, and “extra-continental” smugglers are now entrenched.