The Biden administration quietly made history late last week when U.S. Customs and Border Protection released September data on apprehensions at the southwest border. Those exceeded 185,000 and put total southwest border arrests for this fiscal year at 1,659,206 — an all-time record.
Never before have federal authorities made so many arrests at the southwest border. The Border Patrol keeps records of southwest border apprehensions going back to the Eisenhower administration (and maintains records of total apprehensions, which include the northern border and the coasts, going back to 1925). This year topped the previous record in 2000 by about 15,000 illegal immigrants, marking a new milestone in what has become the dreary annals of America’s porous and crisis-stricken border.
But what you won’t find in the Border Patrol data tables, or the equivocating explainers in the corporate press, is a frank admission that, shocking as these totals are, they represent what will certainly become the new normal on the U.S.-Mexico border under the Biden administration.
In addition to the sheer numbers of illegal immigrants coming over — a 314 percent increase from 2020 and a 95 percent increase from the last border surge in 2019 — this year marks a shift in the usual seasonal pattern of illegal border-crossing. Typically, illegal immigration picks up in February as temperatures warm, peaks in May, then recedes during the hotter summer months. And no wonder: it gets very hot in south Texas during the summer, and crossing on foot as most migrants do can be dangerous, even deadly.
President Joe Biden, along with his courtesans in the press, tried back in March to dismiss what close observers could already see was an historic surge along the border, saying at a news conference, “The truth of the matter is, nothing has changed. It happens every single, solitary year. There is a significant increase in the number of people coming to the border in the winter months of January, February, March. That happens every year.”
What Biden failed to mention is that even back in February border arrests had reached a 15-year high of 97,000. The historic surge was already underway, and it wasn’t following the usual pattern. Apprehensions kept climbing throughout the spring months, and then in June when we would expect the numbers to decrease, they kept climbing, hitting a 21-year high.
Then something really strange happened. In both July and August, typically slow months on the U.S.-Mexico border on account of the brutal heat, total arrests exceed 200,000. The number of unaccompanied children encountered at the border reached a record high in July.
This was unprecedented. Migration experts said they could not explain a mid-summer surge, which defied all previous patterns of border traffic. (The shift was not slight, either. For context, Border Patrol made nearly 87,000 more arrests this past July than it did in the July of the previous record year, 2000.)
Now, we have numbers for September, which is also typically a slower month on the southwest border because of the heat. Going back more than two decades, southwest border arrests in September have never exceeded even 100,000, let alone come close to 200,000 as they did this year.
There’s something else to note about the strangeness of this year’s border numbers. Typically, migrants from countries other than Mexico and the so-called Northern Triangle countries of Central America (Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador) make up a small share of border arrests. Not this year. About 378,000 migrants from places other than Mexico and Central America were arrested at the southwest border. That’s about 22 percent of the total, and represents a staggering increase compared to previous years.
— Lora Ries (@lora_ries) October 26, 2021
Understand that all these numbers represent the consequences of concrete policy choices made by the Biden administration. Illegal border-crossings didn’t surge during the hottest months of the summer because migrants suddenly decided they didn’t much mind the heat. Crossings surged, and are still surging, because migrants believe this is their best chance to get into the United States — and they’re right.
Under Biden, the vast majority of migrant families and children are allowed to remain in the United States while they pursue long-shot asylum cases that take years to complete. Even single adults subject to immediate expulsion under Title 42, a pandemic-related emergency health order instituted by Trump, are increasingly just processed and released. So many have been released in recent months, in fact, that border communities in south Texas have been overwhelmed, scrambling to find buses to move migrants released from federal custody out of town.
Making matters worse, many of those released don’t even have a court date before an immigration judge but are released with what’s called a notice to report (NTR). An NTR is nothing more than a request to report to a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office within 60 days so they can get a court date and begin their asylum case. Migrants are expected to do this of their own volition whenever they get to where they’re going in the United States. To no sensible person’s surprise, many of them don’t.
Biden’s dereliction of duty doesn’t end at the border, it extends to the entire federal immigration apparatus. While historic numbers of people were crossing the border illegally this year, immigration arrests in the interior fell to their lowest level in more than a decade.
A report this week from the Washington Post’s Nick Miroff notes that “ICE arrests in the interior plunged after President Biden took office and set new limits on immigration enforcement, including a 100-day ‘pause’ on most deportations.”
A federal judge blocked Biden’s order, but the message from the White House was received loud and clear. ICE’s 6,000 enforcement officers averaged just one immigration arrest per month this year.
Only States Can Stave Of Biden’s ‘New Normal’
The only way this year’s ongoing border crisis doesn’t become the new normal under Biden is if border states take action on their own, if need be without the permission or cooperation of the federal government.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has talked big about doing just that, but there’s less to his go-it-alone border policy than meets the eye. While it’s true that Abbott authorized specially trained National Guard troops to arrest illegal immigrants on trespassing charges, something that’s never been done before, the entire operation is mostly theater, and might be worse than doing nothing.
For one thing, Texas National Guard troops are only arresting single men, the group most likely to be expelled by CBP under Title 42. These men are being arrested on criminal trespass charges and turned over to locally elected county attorneys for prosecution.
But as Democratic Val Verde County Attorney David Martinez recently told Todd Bensman of the Center for Immigration Studies, the vast majority of the 231 criminal trespass cases against migrants filed by Texas DPS in his county since July have not resulted in significant jail time for the charged migrants because of the significant expense to county taxpayers.
What’s more, Martinez said that once a migrant is released, ICE officers are not expelling them to Mexico under Title 42 as they would if Border Patrol arrested them. Instead, these men are being paroled to pursue asylum claims in the United States.
Rather than these half-measures, Abbott could pursue a much more aggressive strategy of using the National Guard not just to arrest illegal immigrants, but to return them to Mexico. The Texas State Guard, which is entirely under the control of Abbott, could be ordered to do the same, as could Texas state troopers.
Would this trigger a constitutional crisis between the states and the federal government? Almost certainly. But there’s a clear constitutional case that governors of border states have every right, even a duty, to secure their borders. The sooner that argument can be hashed out in public, the better.
There’s much else governors could do, from launching cross-border raids into Mexico against cartel operations that profit from illegal immigration and drug trafficking, to imposing a sanctions regime on corrupt Mexican officials who work for the cartels, to prohibitions on the use of state assets and facilities to house unaccompanied minors unless potential sponsors have passed background checks.
These measures might at first blush seem extreme, but they’re not nearly as extreme as the border regime Biden has put into place, which guarantees that the record-breaking levels of illegal immigration we saw in 2021 will become the new normal.