What happened at the Mexican US border in 2021?

What happened at the Mexican border in FY 2021 (Oct 2020 – Sept 2021)? Government reports are impenetrable to the inexperienced reader, but analyses by others can be quite useful. In this posting I extract from a report by WOLA. (For backgound on WOLA, go here)

This is a much superior report than that of the Washington Examiner for FY 2021. The Pew Research report for is very good and should be read in conjunction with the WOLA report. Also see the Migration Policy Institute Report and the American Immigration Council.

CBP and its Border Patrol component “encountered”—that is, took into custody, at least briefly—more migrants than in any prior fiscal year. The agency reported encountering 1,734,686 undocumented people between October 2020 and September 2021. Of that number, 1,659,206 were encountered between official ports of entry by Border Patrol. That narrowly exceeds the 1,643,679 migrant apprehensions Border Patrol logged in 2000.

It is very likely, then, that a far larger number of additional migrants evaded capture in 2000 than did in 2021.

CBP reported that 26 percent of the migrants it encountered in September had already been encountered at least once before during fiscal 2021. That is way higher than the 14 percent “recidivism” average that the agency recorded between 2014 and 2019. (CBP does not have “recidivism” estimates from before 2005.)

The number of individual people encountered in 2021, then, was significantly fewer than 1.7 million…..the final number of individuals is probably about 1.15 million, which is larger—but not immensely larger—than 2019.

The reason for the increase in repeat crossings is “Title 42,” the pandemic border policy put into place by the Trump administration in March 2020, which the Biden administration has maintained. The year-end statistics show that CBP used Title 42 heavily in 2021. The agency expelled migrants, either into Mexico or by air to their home countries, on 1,063,526 occasions over the course of the year. That’s nearly 61 percent of all encountered migrants in 2021.

Most of those expelled were single adult migrants, who were subject to Title 42 provisions 84 percent of the time in 2021. As single adults are more likely to attempt repeat crossings, their overall “encounters” number is artificially high, with much double-counting.

The Biden administration stopped expelling children who arrived unaccompanied (and who are not Mexican) The number of unaccompanied children encountered in fiscal 2021 was 147,975.

More than 80 percent of encountered migrants came from Mexico or Central America’s “northern triangle” region (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras). In recent months, though, an increasing number of migrants—an unprecedented 36 percent in September—came from other countries.

For the first time ever, more than half of family unit members encountered at the border in September were from countries other than Mexico or the northern triangle. September also saw a very sharp drop (45 percent) from August in arrivals of family members from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

Citizens of countries other than Mexico and the Northern Triangle are expelled relatively rarely. That is because the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) must do so by air, to their home countries, which is costly. The result is a two-tier system in which some countries’ citizens are swiftly expelled without a chance to ask for protection, while others stand a strong chance of being released into the United States to pursue asylum claims.

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