Search and Rescue Stats Highlight Humanitarian Disaster at the Border

Don’t believe the admin’s yammer — Biden’s border is dangerous, chaotic, and cruel

By Andrew R. Arthur on July 17, 2023

If you read CBP’s sunny and upbeat May 2023 Monthly Operational Update, you’d conclude that things are hunky-dory at the Southwest border. Start with the line: “CBP has been executing the Department’s comprehensive plan to secure our borders and build a safe, orderly, and humane immigration system.” Is it really “safe, orderly, and humane”, though? Because the agency’s search and rescue statistics tell a much darker story, which you can read thanks to an internet archive called the “Wayback Machine”.

Biden’s Record Illegal Migrant Surge, and Its National Security Implications. To understand those statistics, however, you must first understand just how many migrants are entering the United States now.

Border Patrol apprehensions — universally accepted as the best marker for illegal alien entries at the Southwest border — hit new records in both FY 2021 (nearly 1.66 million) and again in FY 2022 (more than 2.2 million). In the first eight months of FY 2023, more than 1.4 million aliens have been caught entering illegally at the Southwest border line.

While CBP’s apprehension stats are the “best marker for illegal entries”, they don’t tell the whole story, and especially don’t under the Biden administration. That’s because — by definition — they don’t include “got-aways”, aliens who cross the Southwest border illegally who aren’t apprehended.

But that “’Got-Away’ Tsunami Is the Best Measure of the Decline in Border Security Under Biden”. Since FY 2021, all told, more than 1.5 million foreign nationals have crossed the border and made their way into the interior (599,000 in FY 2022 alone), where they will remain indefinitely, if not forever.

Compare that to the 11-year period between FY 2010 and FY 2020, when, on average, just over 128,000 aliens entered illegally per year at the Southwest border who weren’t caught. In just the first seven months of this fiscal year, at least 530,000 new ones have.

We are less than 19 years distant from the 9-11 Commission Report, wherein the commissioners ominously noted: “In the decade before September 11th, border security — encompassing travel, entry, and immigration — was not seen as a national security matter.” Two decades later, “border security” isn’t “seen as a national security matter”, either, at least not at the White House.

Based on the Biden administration’s insouciance toward those 1.5-million unknown individuals, you’d think they’re coming to work the late shift at the McDonald’s in St. Roberts, Mo., and then go volunteer at petting zoos on the weekend. Maybe they’re right to be blasé about the matter, but don’t feel bad if you think we need fewer Dr. Panglosses and more George Santayanas at DHS.

Why Are So Many Illegal Migrants Coming Now? So, why are all those aliens crossing into the United States illegally now?

Here’s one take, from Blas Nunez-Neto, DHS’s assistant secretary for border and immigration policy, captured under the header “Hemispheric conditions are driving encounter levels that strain DHS resources”:

Violence, food insecurity, severe poverty, corruption, climate change, the continuing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and dire economic conditions have all contributed to a significant increase in irregular migration around the globe, fueling the highest levels of irregular migration since World War II. ... In the Western Hemisphere, failing authoritarian regimes in Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua, along with an ongoing humanitarian crisis in Haiti, have driven millions of people from those countries to leave their homes. Additionally, violence, corruption, and the lack of economic opportunity — challenges that are endemic throughout the region — are driving noncitizens from countries such as Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru to make the dangerous journey to the U.S. border. This is in addition to the continuing economic headwinds and rule of law concerns in traditional sending countries, such as Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

You’ll note that most of the issues that the assistant secretary lists are, indeed, endemic (“violence, food insecurity, severe poverty, corruption”), some aren’t quantifiable (“climate change”, the “continuing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic”), and others are purely a matter of historical perspective (the current situations in Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru).

Perhaps Nunez-Neto has forgotten — or never heard of—the past reigns of terror of the Sendero Luminoso in Peru, the FARC in Colombia, and the Tonton Macoutes in Haiti, or the civil wars in Guatemala and El Salvador (each of which ended in the 1990s).

He should also take a look at the 2015 Department of State country reports for Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. That year, 1,015 Nicaraguans, 106 Cubans, and 23 Venezuelans were apprehended at the Southwest border. Through May, nearly 114,000 Cubans, more than 95,000 Nicaraguans, and 97,250 Venezuelans have been stopped there by agents this fiscal year.

And didn’t President Biden invite Brazilian President Lula da Silva to the White House in February, where he “affirmed the United States’ unwavering support for Brazil’s democracy and respect for the free will of the Brazilian people”, and told his Brazilian counterpart, “Brazil, the United States stand together, we reject political violence, and we put great value in our democratic institutions ... [a]nd the rule of law, freedom, and equality, these are the core principles we both believe in”?

Respectfully, with the possible exceptions of Haiti and Cuba, we never had surges of tens of thousands of migrants from those countries until Biden showed up. If the assistant secretary’s statement sounds like a post-hoc rationalization for the administration’s unprecedented migrant surge, that’s because it is.

Consider an alternative perspective, this one from U.S. district court Judge T. Kent Wetherell II.

In his March 8 opinion in Florida v. U.S., Judge Wetherell concluded — after considering massive piles of evidence Florida’s state attorney general, Ashley Moody, managed to pry out of DHS — that the Biden administration has:

effectively turned the Southwest Border into a meaningless line in the sand and little more than a speedbump for aliens flooding into the country by prioritizing “alternatives to detention” over actual detention and by releasing more than a million aliens into the country — on “parole” or pursuant to the exercise of “prosecutorial discretion” under a wholly inapplicable statute — without even initiating removal proceedings.


Collectively, [the administration’s] actions were akin to posting a flashing “Come In, We’re Open” sign on the southern border. The unprecedented “surge” of aliens that started arriving at the Southwest Border almost immediately after President Biden took office and that has continued unabated over the past two years was a predictable consequence of these actions. Indeed, [then-Border Patrol Chief Raul] Ortiz credibly testified based on his experience that there have been increases in migration “when there are no consequences” and migrant populations believe they will be released into the country.

Between Assistant Secretary Nunez-Neto and Judge Wetherell, I know which perspective I trust.

“Safe, Orderly, and Humane”. Returning to Nunez-Neto, his statements were included in a declaration that was filed in a case brought by immigrants’ advocates who are attempting to block some (minor) asylum restrictions included in the Biden administration’s May 16 “Circumvention of Lawful Pathways” (CLAP) rule.

In defense of that rule, the assistant secretary — repeatedly — contends in various iterations that the CLAP rule is all part of the administration’s effort “to ensure the safe, orderly, and humane management of the nation’s borders”. That both tracks and echoes the pollyannish language in CBP’s Monthly Operation Update.

Is what Biden’s allowing to happen at the Southwest border really “safe, orderly, and humane”? Consider the following.

Among the enforcement statistics CBP updates monthly is a set captioned “Search and Rescue Efforts”. It compares the numbers of searches and rescues agents at the Southwest border have conducted during the current fiscal year to their efforts in the prior four fiscal years (FY 2019 to FY 2021).

In FY 2019, when more than 851,500 migrants were apprehended entering the United States illegally — more than 55 percent of them in particularly vulnerable “family units” (adults travelling with children) — Border Patrol agents at the U.S.-Mexico line conducted 4,920 searches and rescues.

In FY 2020, a year in which the Covid-19 pandemic shut down most legitimate travel, and in which CDC issued its first Title 42 expulsion orders for illegal entrants in response to that pandemic — the Border Patrol “search and rescue” figure jumped, slightly, to 5,071.

In FY 2021, the year Biden took office and started releasing illegal migrants (in violation of law) in the manner Judge Wetherell described, searches and rescues more than doubled at the Southwest border, to 12,833.

In FY 2022 — again, when agents apprehended more than 2.2 million illegal entrants and 599,000 others “got away” at the Southwest border — the number of searches and rescues carried out by agents there increased by more than 72 percent to 22,075.

Which brings me to the FY 2023 year-to-date figures. With the assistance of the Wayback Machine — which kept a record of the prior month’s totals — I can tell you that as of the end of end of April, Border Patrol agents at the Southwest border performed 17,810 searches and rescues — about 20 percent fewer in just seven months than in the whole prior fiscal year. And at an average of 2,544 per month. That’s bad.

But not as bad as what happened when all of those “safe, orderly, and humane” efforts started to kick in: By the end of May, agents had performed 24,056 searches and rescues, 9 percent more than in all of FY 2022, but more saliently, 6,246 more searches and rescues than the month before.

That’s more search and rescue efforts in one month than in all of FY 2019 and FY 2020, and nearly half as many in FY 2021 — itself a historically bad year for searches and rescues.

Regrettably, agents can’t save everybody. Here’s a July 5 tweet from Border Patrol Chief Jason Owens:

You can add to that grim total a nine-year-old boy, whom agents found without water in medical distress and in seizure after he crossed with his mother, brother, and an “unknown male migrant” near Mesa, Ariz. on June 15. “Medical Center personnel diagnosed the child with multi-organ failure and placed him on life support while USBP maintained hospital watch”. He died six hours later, after a heroic effort to save him.

“Dangerous, Chaotic, and Cruel”. My first “child safety seat” was a wicker basket in the back of my mother’s 1966 Dodge Coronet 440, and the playgrounds of my youth resembled the second act of “The Running Man”, but to its credit, in the intervening five decades, our society has placed greater emphasis on safety.

But that’s not true of the trap that the Biden administration’s policies have set for migrants at the Southwest border. Its officials can yammer on about how “safe, orderly, and humane” those policies are, but the statistics don’t lie.

CBP’s search and rescue stats are the best indicator of the life-threatening dangers that lurk in the Rio Grande and across the Sonoran Desert. They reveal that, thanks to the administration’s policies, the Southwest border is becoming more dangerous, chaotic, and cruel. Don’t believe the admin’s yammer.