January Border Numbers Reflect Ongoing Chaos

Brace yourself for what the rest of FY 2022 will bring

By Andrew R. Arthur on February 22, 2022

CBP last week released its statistics on the number of illegal migrants encountered at the Southwest border in January. In what is quickly becoming an evergreen observation, the numbers are bad, reflecting a border in chaos with no end in sight.

Apprehensions Fell Between December and January, but Are Still Bad. In January, Border Patrol agents at the Southwest border apprehended nearly 147,000 illegal migrants. On the bright side, the number of apprehensions was more than 14 percent lower than in December, but that is more because the December numbers were so dreadful than because the January numbers were good.

Illegal migration almost always craters in January before picking up again in February, as foreign nationals and smugglers spend the holidays with their families. Traditionally, apprehensions tick up through May, at which point they hit their yearly highs, and then fall through the height of the summer as the weather heats up.

The spring is not exclusively “travel season” for illegal migrants, but it is usually the height.

FY 2021 did not fit into this traditional pattern, and while illegal apprehensions crested last fiscal year in August, they have remained high ever since. Every month between last May and December set new monthly apprehension totals at the Southwest border.

Last Month’s Apprehensions Up More than 400 Percent Over Pre-Pandemic January Totals. The January 2022 apprehension numbers nearly doubled the totals for the same month one year before (75,316), which in turn was 158 percent higher than the number of Border Patrol apprehensions at the Southwest border in January 2020 (29,205) — prior to the Covid-19 pandemic shutdowns that brought most immigration (legal and illegal) to a halt.

Comparing the apprehension numbers for last month to the pre-pandemic numbers in January 2020, illegal migration is up more than 400 percent on a monthly basis in just two years. That surge occurred even though illegal migrants currently run the risk of being expelled under CDC orders issued under Title 42 of the U.S. Code in response to the pandemic.

Curiously, however, last month’s Southwest border apprehensions were not the highest ever recorded for the month of January. In January 2000, Border Patrol agents apprehended nearly 186,000 aliens at the Southwest border, making January’s totals a brief glimmer of good news when it comes to illegal migration.

That may be because, as my colleague Todd Bensman has reported, the Biden administration has been flying apprehended Haitian migrants out of the United States. In January, Border Patrol agents apprehended 3,242 illegal Haitian migrants at the Southwest border, fewer than half as many as they caught in December (7,105), so Bensman may be on to something.

That said, in the first four months of FY 2022, agents have apprehended more illegal migrants (643,630) than they did total in any given fiscal year between FY 2009 and FY 2018. At this pace, apprehensions will reach somewhere between two million and 2.5 million in FY 2022.

More than 41 Percent of Apprehensions in January Were “Long-Distance” Migrants. There are more troubling signs in the latest numbers. More than 41 percent of the illegal migrants Border Patrol apprehended in January were not Mexican nationals (OTMs) and not from the “Northern Triangle” countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras (ONTs) — they came from farther abroad.

By contrast, such “long-distance” migrants constituted just over 22 percent of the more than 1,659,206 apprehensions in FY 2021. In just the first four months of FY 2022, agents have apprehended more than 240,000 OTM/ONT migrants.

The Mexican government has long been loath to accept back OTM/ONT migrants expelled under Title 42, which likely explains why fewer than 5 percent of the long-distance migrants apprehended in FY 2022 have been expelled pursuant to that authority.

More saliently, however, it is much harder for DHS to remove OTM/ONTs than it is nationals of Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Mexican nationals can be sent back at the closest port of entry, while the United States does not even have diplomatic relations with the de facto government of Venezuela — from which 22,725 illegal migrants apprehended in January hail.

Nor will the Biden administration’s efforts to address the “root causes” of illegal migration in the Northern Triangle do anything to dissuade the nearly 9,700 illegal migrants apprehended in January from Cuba, the 3,874 from Colombia, or the 11,540 from Nicaragua.

Glimmers of Hope, but Much More Bad News. There are some glimmers of hope in CBP’s border apprehension numbers, but much more troublesome news. The number of illegal migrants caught at the Southwest border in January is lower than the month before but is still higher than in any other January in the last 22 years. In just four months in FY 2022, apprehensions have already exceeded yearly totals in 10 straight recent fiscal years. And the number of long-distance migrants is surging. Brace yourself for what the rest of FY 2022 will bring.