CBP’s Border Numbers Are Late — Which Means They’re Probably Really Bad

Expect a weekend “news dump” for what’s likely to be a record number of encounters in December

By Andrew R. Arthur on January 18, 2024

Among CBP’s many duties is providing the public and decision-makers with accurate statistics on the number of aliens its officers and agents have encountered at the Southwest border. Those numbers are essentially compiled on the first of the month for the month before, and are traditionally published two weeks later, on the 15th. The Biden administration, however, has little use for such traditions when the Southwest border numbers are bad, preferring instead to push them out late on a Friday or over the weekend in what is known in Washington as a “news dump”. December’s CBP migrant encounter statistics could potentially set records, so don’t expect them until Friday, January 19 — at the earliest.

A History of Biden’s Border News Dumps. “Encounters” is a term DHS coined at the outset of Title 42 in March 2020, defined as the total number of aliens apprehended by Border Patrol agents plus the number of aliens deemed inadmissible at the ports of entry by CBP officers in the agency’s Office of Field Operations (OFO).

CBP set a new all-time monthly record for encounters at the Southwest border in December 2022, as Border Patrol agents apprehended more than 222,000 aliens and CBP officers denied admission to 30,000-plus others there that month.

The agency failed to release those statistics, however, until the evening of January 20, 2023 — a Friday, after most national news outlets had called it a weekend.

One month prior, CBP waited until December 23, 2022 — the Friday before a Sunday Christmas — to release its Southwest border numbers for the prior month. As I explained at the time:

In November, agents at the Southwest border apprehended more than 206,000 illegal migrants, an increase over October’s apprehension totals (just fewer than 205,000), and the highest total for that month ever (records go back to November 1999).

CBP repeated its holiday efforts in 2023, releasing its November 2023 border encounter figures on the afternoon of Friday, December 22 — this time three days before a Monday Christmas.

When it came to that effort, I opined: “Those stats ... show that illegal aliens continue to flood into the country not only unabated but assisted by the administration. All the holiday tinsel and glitter can’t hide the fact that the president’s border disaster is only getting worse.”

Let me explain my flowery prose. In November 2023, Border Patrol agents apprehended more than 191,000 illegal entrants at the Southwest border, which to be fair was a decline of just over 16,500 apprehensions from the same month one year before.

The problem was that OFO’s monthly encounters at the Southwest border ports rose by more than 86 percent in November 2023 (more than 51,000) compared to the previous November (just fewer than 27,500). Consequently, even though apprehensions dipped slightly, overall CBP encounters for the month of November 2023 rose by more than 7,000 compared to the same month in 2022, news that would have reflected poorly on the administration’s policies had it been splashed across the headlines.

Nothing, however, quite matches the chutzpah of Biden’s CBP when it came to its news dump of border statistics for September 2022. Those were issued after 11:00 PM EDT on Friday, October 21, 2022, but that late-night timing was just the first issue.

September is also the last month of the federal government’s fiscal year, meaning that not only did that news dump include the prior month’s encounters, but the figures for the whole prior fiscal year, as well. And those CBP figures revealed that Border Patrol made more apprehensions in FY 2022 at the Southwest border than in any prior fiscal year ever — more than 2.2 million.

That beat the prior record — which was set the fiscal year before, FY 2021 — by more than 547,000 apprehensions, a nearly 33-percent increase. But the political part of the story only gets worse.

You see, 2022 was also a mid-term election year, with every seat in the House of Representatives and 35 Senate seats in play. By the time CBP released those September numbers, early voting had already begun in 14 states, including in such hotly contested “toss-up” races as Arizona (October 12), Ohio (October 12), Georgia (October 17), and North Carolina (October 20). As I explained at the time:

there is something decidedly deceptive, shabby, and unbecoming about the way CBP released its FY 2022 Southwest border statistics — late at night, nearly a week after they are normally published, and past the point voters had begun casting ballots to determine which party will control Congress.

U.S. voters deserve to know what’s being done in their name, but the Biden administration has long suffered from a “transparency” problem when it comes to its immigration policies and their effects.

What to Expect When the Numbers Are Released, and the Possible Political Fallout. As the delay in CBP’s release of those December border numbers shows, that transparency problem hasn’t improved any of late.

But voters’ concerns about border security have heightened in the interim, along with the stakes for the Biden administration on two separate political battlefields.

Senate negotiators are currently working on a package of border reforms in exchange for military funding for Ukraine, and Democrats are likely feeling the heat to get a deal done.

Part of that heat has to do with the $61 billion in funding itself, but a bigger issue is that the president’s immigration policies — which are driving the surge in encounters at the Southwest border — are shaping up to be a political liability for Biden and his fellow partisans in the upcoming 2024 elections.

As I recently reported, 70 percent of Americans disapprove of the president’s handling of immigration according to the latest CBS News poll, which also found that more than one in five respondents (21 percent) believe that “immigration and the border” is the “most important problem facing this country today”. That’s second only to concerns about inflation, the choice of 29 percent, another Biden liability.

The voters’ angst is unlikely to be eased by the December border numbers, if published reports are correct. According to Fox News, CBP encountered more than 302,000 migrants at the U.S.-Mexico line last month, “the highest total for a single month ever recorded” and “a level thought unimaginable just years ago”.

If those figures are accurate — and the outlet’s reporting on border issues almost always is — they will simply toss additional rhetorical kerosene on already heated political debates over the president’s border and immigration policies and drag down his electoral prospects to an even greater degree.

Possibly worse for the White House, however such figures would also provide more grist for the mill of House Homeland Security Committee GOP members, who are considering whether to impeach DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for his inaction on border security and immigration enforcement generally.

If you’re worried about the fiscal and national-security effects of the ongoing migrant surge at the Southwest border, brace yourself for CBP’s December encounter numbers, because they’re likely to be historically awful. But if the administration is true to form, you won’t have to worry about seeing those numbers until the afternoon of Friday January 19, at the earliest.