Border Patrol Arrests Hit A 20-Year High Last Month — But Migration Isn’t Necessarily Surging. Here’s Why.

Topline

The U.S. Border Patrol made nearly 180,000 arrests at the U.S.-Mexico border last month, the highest figure in decades, per data released Friday, but total migration levels haven’t necessarily increased, partly because repeat border crossings surged during the pandemic.

Key Facts

Border Patrol agents caught 178,416 people trying to cross the southern border without authorization in June, up 3% from May, marking the busiest single month since 2000.

Most people encountered crossing the U.S.-Mexico border last month were single adults (113,383 arrests), but the rise in arrests was mostly driven by an increase in apprehensions of unaccompanied minors (15,018) and families (50,015), even though the number of adult arrests dropped more than 3%.

Despite a massive surge in arrests this year, it’s unclear whether the overall number of migrants shot up: U.S. Customs and Border Protection says 454,944 unique individuals were encountered on the border so far this fiscal year, a decrease of 7% from the same period in 2019.

The arrest data includes a massive number of repeat border-crossers, a trend CBP tied to a controversial 16-month-old policy of expelling most single adults from the United States within hours of getting arrested (34% of June arrestees were caught at least one other time in the last year, more than double the recidivism rate from 2014 to 2019).

Border Patrol also catches more migrants nowadays than during the early 2000s: The agency estimates it apprehended 69.6% of border-crossers in 2018, compared to just 42.5% in 2000, though officials say the “got-away” rate has crept up in the last year.

Surprising Fact

Almost half of all single adults arrested by Border Patrol last month were from Mexico, but just 13.8% of unaccompanied minors and 2.9% of families hailed from the United States’ southern neighbor. Instead, most families and children came from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Experts say migration from Central America has spiked due to economic crises and rampant violence, but the United States’ policies could also play a role. Most Mexican families are rapidly expelled from the United States after Border Patrol arrests them, but Mexico reportedly stopped accepting Central American families from the United States earlier this year, meaning very few are subject to immediate expulsion.

Key Background

Border arrests have surged this year after a steep decline during the worst months of the pandemic, overwhelming immigration agents and causing political acrimony. Some conservatives have blamed this uptick on President Joe Biden’s decision to ease many of the Trump administration’s stringent immigration rules, but the Biden administration argued arrests are up because of seasonal trends and poverty and violence in Latin America. However, arrests remained high last month even though migration levels usually drop off during the summer, when hot weather makes the journey across the border even more perilous than usual.

Crucial Quote

“We are in the hottest part of the summer, and we are seeing a high number of distress calls to CBP from migrants abandoned in treacherous terrain by smugglers with no regard for human life,” CBP acting Commissioner Troy Miller said in a statement Friday.

Tangent

The number of unaccompanied minors caught at the border shot up earlier this year, causing government shelters to run out of space and forcing thousands of children to stay in makeshift Border Patrol tents and other facilities designed for adults. This spike has subsided since March, but CPB has still apprehended an average of 437 unaccompanied minors per day over the last month.

Big Number

16,229. That’s how many unaccompanied minors were in U.S. government custody as of Wednesday. More than 90% are staying in shelters overseen by Health and Human Services, which is working to track down U.S.-based parents and other relatives, but more than 1,000 children are in the custody of CBP.

What To Watch For

Biden is considering lifting Title 42, a Trump-era public health policy that instructs immigration agents to rapidly expel most unauthorized border-crossers from the United States shortly after they’re arrested, the Wall Street Journal reported. The Biden administration rescinded this policy for unaccompanied minors, but it’s still in place for adults and families. Immigration advocates and some Democratic lawmakers have blasted this policy, arguing it prevents migrants from seeking asylum and often sends them to dangerous border cities.

Further Reading

As migrants arrive from more nations, their paths to U.S. border diverge, new data show (Washington Post)

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