Congressional Budget Office Estimates 860K ‘Got-Aways’ in FY 2023

The effects of ‘family units’ on border security, and the drug and terrorist threats posed by aliens who enter ‘without encountering a CBP official’

By Andrew R. Arthur on January 22, 2024

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has just released its “Demographic Outlook: 2024 to 2054”, and that assessment includes some shockers, including that 860,000 aliens entered the United States illegally in FY 2023 “without encountering a CBP official”. In other words, they were “got-aways” as defined by statute, nearly the population of Charlotte, N.C., America’s 15th largest city. And those are just the migrants who didn’t want to get caught. Here are the negative effects a massive wave of migrants — and “family” migrants, in particular — are having on border security, and ultimately law enforcement and national security.

“The Got-Away Tsunami”. Back in June, I did a deep dive explaining why what I termed the “got-away tsunami” that has been washing across the Southwest border since Joe Biden took office is the best measure of the decline in border security under this administration, but it’s important to reiterate that statement given CBO’s estimates.

CBP — both officers from the agency’s Office of Field Operations (OFO) at the Southwest border ports of entry and Border Patrol agents between those ports along the 1,954-mile boundary with Mexico — have had to deal with an unprecedented number of illegal aliens since President Biden's 2021 inauguration.

To put that migrant surge into perspective, and to explain its causes and effects, I first have to review some recent history, beginning in the Obama administration.

Recent History. DHS’s Office of Homeland Security Statistics (OHSS) recently published data on CBP’s enforcement efforts at the Southwest border over the past 10 fiscal years. It shows that total “encounters” there — illegal entrants nabbed by Border Patrol agents plus aliens deemed inadmissible by OFO — rose from about 445,000 in FY 2015 to just fewer than 520,000 in FY 2018, and then to more than 977,000 in FY 2019.

Why the increase? Most of it has to do with a poorly reasoned 2015 district court order that required DHS to release alien children who entered illegally with adults in “family units” (FMUs) within 20 days of apprehension. To avoid “family separation”, the department usually let the adults go, too.

After smugglers identified that loophole, they encouraged their customers to bring kids along when coming here illegally. That’s the reason why CBP’s family-unit encounters at the Southwest border jumped from about 40,000 in FY 2015 to 103,000 by FY 2016.

Overall encounters at the border dropped in FY 2017, after Trump came to office promising more border enforcement, but not encounters involving FMUs. They rose to nearly 105,000 that fiscal year before jumping to nearly 160,000 in FY 2018.

The Trump administration tried to dissuade parents from using their children as pawns in this border-release scheme in April 2018 by threatening to prosecute them for “improper entry” — a misdemeanor for a first offense. That, however, resulted in those adult migrants being separated from those children, which triggered a backlash in Congress and in the press. Trump was forced to quickly shut down those prosecutions two months later.

Predictably, once neither detention nor prosecution was a deterrent, the number of FMUs CBP encountered at the Southwest border surged to nearly 527,000 in FY 2019.

The Link Between FMUs and Got-Aways. Which brings me to got-aways. CBP must utilize more of its resources to process and care for family migrants than for single adults, who can be transported and housed together, separated only by sex. Children in FMUs must be segregated from unrelated adults for their protection, as must their mothers from unrelated males, all while the agency uses its best efforts to keep those “families” together.

Agents and officers had to be pulled off the line to deal with both the total increase in FMUs and in providing that essential care to them during that 2019 FMU surge, which left sections of the border unguarded. Smugglers exploited those security gaps, and the number of got-aways rose as a consequence, from fewer than 129,000 in FY 2018 to 151,500 by FY 2019.

That was clearly a problem, but unlike his successor, at least Trump recognized that problem and quickly responded, most significantly by implementing the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), better known as “Remain in Mexico”.

MPP allowed CBP to send the non-Mexican migrants it encountered — both single adults and family units — back across the border to await hearings on whether they would be allowed to legally enter the United States.

It didn’t take many MPP returns to drive the encounter numbers back down. OHSS reports that fewer than 31,250 aliens encountered at the Southwest border were sent back across the border under MPP between June and September 2019 — 84 percent of them aliens in FMUs.

In May of that year, CBP encountered about 144,000 aliens at the Southwest border, 65 percent of whom (nearly 88,600) were in FMUs — at the time, monthly records in both categories.

As MPP got revved up and news of returns to Mexico spread, that figure dropped to fewer than 52,500 CBP Southwest border encounters in September — some 22,000 of whom (less than 42 percent) were in FMUs.

By February 2020, the month before Title 42 was implemented and once MPP was in full swing, CBP Southwest border encounters dropped to fewer than 37,000, and just over 7,100 of those aliens (19.3 percent) were in FMUs.

The Impacts of Title 42 on Got-Aways. Title 42 had many benefits — at least as implemented by the Trump administration — but it also placed its own strains on CBP in dealing with the migrant flow at the Southwest border.

Of the approximately 553,000 aliens encountered at the Southwest border between March 2020 (when CDC issued its first Title 42 order in response to the Covid-19 pandemic) and January 2021 (Trump’s last month in office), nearly 460,000 — 83 percent — were expelled.

Again, the migrants and smugglers knew that, so not getting caught was key to any successful illegal entry.

Consequently, CBP recorded just about 137,000 got-aways in FY 2020 — 10 percent fewer than in FY 2019, but still slightly higher than historical norms. But the worst, of course, was yet to come.

The Worst. The Biden administration quickly suspended and then attempted to terminate MPP (twice), along with the other Trump border policies that had brought illegal entries generally — and FMU entries in particular — under control.

At the same time, President Biden also pulled back the reins on Title 42 expulsions. Of the 1.438 million aliens encountered between February 2021 and that September, only about 809,000 — 56.2 percent — were expelled under Title 42.

Worse — from a law-enforcement standpoint — just over 111,000 of the nearly 459,000 aliens in FMUs encountered during that period (24.2 percent) were expelled. Not only didn’t adults in family units have to worry about detention or prosecution for entering illegally under Biden, but the odds were also good that they wouldn’t be expelled under Title 42, either.

These trends only got worse in FY 2022. Of the approximately 2.379 million aliens encountered by CBP at the Southwest border that fiscal year, much fewer than half, 45.3 percent, were expelled under Title 42. More than 560,000 aliens in FMUs were encountered that fiscal year, and just over 116,000 were expelled, less than 21 percent of the family total.

CBP had to dedicate resources to process all of those aliens — both the ones who were expelled and the ones who weren’t, and as FMU apprehensions surged, the agency had to dedicate even more resources to them.

As a result, Border Patrol has been severely understaffed since Biden took office, and often, few if any agents are actually “on the line”.

It shouldn’t be surprising, therefore, that the number of aliens who have evaded apprehension has surged, nearly tripling to 389,515 in FY 2021, and then increasing by an additional 54 percent to nearly 600,000 in FY 2022.

According to CBO, that “got-away tsunami” has only swelled since then, rising yet another 43.6 percent to 860,000 in FY 2023.

On one level, none of this makes sense. Even if aliens get caught at the Southwest border, they are likely to be released thanks to the Biden administration’s non-detention policies.

By my calculations, approximately 88.5 percent of the illegal migrants apprehended by Border Patrol at the Southwest border under Biden who weren’t expelled have been released, and of the just fewer than 51,000 aliens encountered by OFO at the Southwest ports in September 2023, OHSS reports that nearly 45,500 — 89 percent — were paroled.

On another, and much more disturbing, level, however, that got-away tsunami makes too much sense. Many of those got-aways are single adult males from Mexico coming to work, and they are one of the few demographic groups Biden’s CBP is willing to send back. But not all of them are working-age Mexicans, so why would they, too, evade apprehension?

Because, if you have a serious criminal record in the United States already or are wanted by your home government on serious criminal charges, you likely don’t want to hope that Border Patrol will simply look the other way. Not “encountering a CBP official”, as CBO puts it, during your illicit entrance is in your best interest.

Worse, if you are a drug smuggler or a would-be terrorist, there’s no way you would want to be caught. CBP reports that in FY 2023, its agents and officers encountered 131 aliens on the terrorist watchlist at the Southwest border and seized 241,000 pounds of illegal drugs there.

We know that despite those efforts, drugs continue to be successfully smuggled over the border and onto our streets. How many aliens with terrorist intentions have done the same thing? Ideally, we’ll figure that out before it’s too late, but when you’re talking about nearly two million got-aways in three years, it may already be too late.

“A Rogue’s Gallery of Foreign Terrorist Organizations”. On p. 384 of its final report, the 9/11 Commission explained:

For terrorists, travel documents are as important as weapons. Terrorists must travel clandestinely to meet, train, plan, case targets, and gain access to attack. To them, international travel presents great danger, because they must surface to pass through regulated channels, present themselves to border security officials, or attempt to circumvent inspection points.

That warning is dated in the age of Biden. That’s not to say the terrorist threat that the commissioners described isn’t still real. If anything, that threat has only increased.

As FBI Director Christopher Wray told the House Homeland Security Committee in November:

Since October 7th, we've seen a rogue’s gallery of foreign terrorist organizations call for attacks against Americans and our allies. Hizballah expressed its support and praise for Hamas and threatened to attack U.S. interests in the Middle East. Al-Qaida issued its most specific call to attack the United States in the last five years. Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula called on jihadists to attack Americans and Jewish people everywhere. ISIS urged its followers to target Jewish communities in the United States and Europe.


On top of the so-called "lone actor" threat, we cannot — and do not — discount the possibility that Hamas or another foreign terrorist organization may exploit the current conflict to conduct attacks here, on our own soil.

No, the “dated” part of the 9/11 Commission’s analysis is its conclusion that for terrorists, “international travel presents great danger, because they must surface to pass through regulated channels, present themselves to border security officials, or attempt to circumvent inspection points”.

That all assumes alien terrorists would have to “present themselves” to CBP to enter the United States, or that “circumventing inspection points” would pose any great challenge. If Border Patrol agents are all off the line caring for families and kids, those terrorists can just traipse right in.

CBO reports that 860,000 aliens crossed the Southwest border illegally in FY 2023 without being caught. That’s because agents are too busy dealing with millions of other aliens — and hundreds of thousands of “families”, in particular — who have been lured by the president’s release policies to enter illegally and turn themselves in. How many of those “got-aways” are criminals, drug smugglers, or terrorists? By definition, there’s no way to know — until it’s too late.