Three years after the country turned its fist to the trump administration’s treatment of children and families showing up at the U.S.-Mexico border, the nation’s attention once again turned come the government’s actions in ~ the border in early 2021. Although lot of the national focus was ~ above the arrival of families and also unaccompanied children, the headlines about “the highest variety of border meet in 20 years” are the an outcome of trends among an entirely various group—single adults—who have been responsible for nearly two-thirds of all border apprehensions so much in 2021 (January v June. And in spite of the high numbers of border encounters, v the an initial nine month of fiscal year 2021, under people pertained to the border and also crossed for the an initial time than during the same duration in budget year 2019.

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For generations, the joined States has actually seen regular cycles of migration. There have also been lot of extraordinary migration occasions that have led more families and also children to seek asylum. While much of the national conversation in beforehand 2021 focused on a an alleged surge in arrivals under the Biden administration, the root of the present trends began months—and in some situations years—before president Biden took office. The federal government can and should watch the arrival of high numbers of asylum seekers as a humanitarian protection management challenge, not a security challenge.

Historical Background

For almost a 35-year duration beginning in the mid-1970s, the Border Patrol regularly apprehended at the very least 1,000,000 migrants a year—primarily Mexican solitary adults—who to be seeking a far better life in the unified States. Seasonal migration patterns brought about spikes in apprehensions each spring. For example, indigenous December 1999 come March 2000, apprehensions climbed from 71,252 to 220,063. Throughout each of this spikes, countless apprehensions were of the same people crossing the border lot of times and being sent back to Mexico under a practice known as “voluntary returns.” During this years, patterns of “circular migration” led to numerous individuals cross the border to occupational in the United says for a short period of time before returning home.

Despite the high number of apprehensions, until newly most world crossing the border were able to perform so without being apprehended. The U.S. Room of Homeland defense (DHS) estimates that fiscal Year (FY) 2012 to be the an initial time the Border Patrol arrest a majority of human being crossing the border. Thus, in FY 2000, when the Border Patrol taped 1.7 million apprehensions, DHS estimates that there were an additional 2.1 million successful unlawful entries.

After the great Recession in 2007-2008, migration native Mexico declined sharply, falling native 1,089,092 apprehensions in FY 2006 to 340,252 apprehensions in FY 2011. Around the exact same time, the number of Border Patrol agents increased dramatically under the shrub administration, from 11,264 in FY 2005 come 21,444 in FY 2011. The combination of decreased economic demand and increased immigrant enforcement brought about a far-ranging reduction in the number of single adults coming come the border—a trend which lasted because that the following decade. As economic problems in Mexico improved and the border came to be more an overwhelming to cross, one migration trends were disrupted and also net migration from Mexico to reduce significantly, leading to more undocumented immigrant leaving the United claims than start it.

As a result, direct comparisons in between apprehension numbers in recent years and those developing decades back miss a crucial fact; that is substantially harder to overcome the border without detection and apprehension now than it was just a decade back (see number 1).

Figure 1: Estimated full U.S.-Mexico Border Crossings, by Outcomes, FY 2000 - 2018


Source: Table 1, Model-Based Apprehension Rate, DHS Office of immigrant Statistics, “Fiscal Year 2019 Border security Metrics Report” (August 2020);U.S. Customs and also Border Protection, yearly Apprehensions FY 1925–2019.

However, the united States started encountering a brand-new phenomenon beginning in 2014 with the arrival of 10s of countless unaccompanied children and families seek asylum in the unified States. By law, individuals have the right to only seek asylum once they are physically present in the United says or once they are showing up at a port of entry. Asylum seekers and also unaccompanied children generally turn themselves in to the Border Patrol immediately upon crossing the border and also ask to access the asylum process. Also when asylum seekers voluntarily rotate themselves in come the Border Patrol, they room still recorded as having actually been “apprehended.”

Both the Obama and also Trump administrations attempted without success come deter people from seeking protection, native the former’s development of family members detention v the latter’s family separation policy. But these policies have actually not had any kind of meaningful permanent effect in spite of the incredible hardship lock have created for plenty of families and also children. For example, the variety of families and also children encountered in ~ the southern border peaked in FY 2019, in spite of the family members separation policy the ahead year, as soon as the Border Patrol apprehended a total of 549,702 parents and also children at the border seeking protection.

While the spike of come in FY 2019 did not lug border apprehensions near the levels of the 1980s through early on 2000s (see number 2), families and children make a unique processing an obstacle for the federal government as contrasted with single adults. Nevertheless, the variety of single adult encountered at the border in 2019 remained relatively low in comparison come the previous decade.

Figure 2: yearly Border Patrol Apprehensions in ~ the U.S.-Mexico Border, FY 1970 – FY 2020


Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Monthly Border Patrol Apprehensions, FY 2000-2020.

At the exact same time the the federal government warned human being not to cross between ports of entry, the federal government was turning asylum seekers away from ports of entry. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 10s of thousands of civilization intending to seek asylum were wait in Mexico because of a practice known as “metering” through which CBP borders the number of people who can ask because that asylum each day in ~ a port of entry.

By February 2020, there were an estimated 15,000 people waiting for the possibility to start the asylum process in cities throughout the U.S.-Mexico border, few of whom had been wait for years. The DHS Office of Inspector General established in 2020 the metering brought about some human being to cross the border and turn us in fairly than wait because that unknown durations of time in Mexico for a chance to start the asylum process through a harbor of entry.

Border Apprehensions begin Rising Again in feather 2020

In spring 2020, COVID-19-related lockdowns spread economic chaos across Mexico and Latin America. At the very same time, the United states shut its borders to all asylum seekers and President trump instituted the exercise of expelling individuals encountered in ~ the border under public wellness authority allegedly noted by title 42 that the U.S. Code. Under title 42, any solitary adult or family members crossing the border from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, or El Salvador was automatically sent ago to Mexico without a deportation order, even if they to be seeking asylum.

Unaccompanied children and also most people from countries other 보다 Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador to be taken into custody, held for job or weeks, and also then exile by plane earlier to their house country. In total, an ext than 13,000 unaccompanied youngsters were expelled under location 42 until a commonwealth judge ordered the Trump administration to stop the practice on November 18, 2020, declaring it a violation of immigration law.

At the exact same time that Title 42 entered place, the Trump management eliminated accessibility to asylum in ~ the port of entry. That left tens of thousands of civilization on metering perform stranded in Mexico. Those waiting in Mexico to seek security were left v no option however to proceed waiting and also hope the border would certainly reopen at part unknown suggest in the future. 

The COVID-19 pandemic likewise led the Trump administration to suspend court hearings for 25,000 migrants sent back to Mexico under the so-called “Migrant security Protocols” (also recognized as the stay in Mexico Program). Subsequently, brand-new placements right into MPP were virtually entirely changed by title 42 expulsions. After location 42 got in effect, simply 1.19% of civilization encountered in ~ the border to be put into MPP before the Biden management took office and completely suspended brand-new enrollments in MPP ~ above January 20, 2021.

Title 42 has not only had a severely an adverse effect top top asylum seekers, that has additionally led to an increase in the number of people cross the border much more than once, an result acknowledged by DHS officials. Nearly immediately after lockdowns lifted throughout Mexico and central America, the number of single adults coming come the border seek to enter the unified States began rising rapidly, from a low of 14,754 in April 2020 come 62,041 in December 2020. Under title 42, solitary adults are promptly processed in ~ the border and also sent right back to Mexico there is no a deportation order. This arrangement has incentivized repeated attempted crossings, and also the price at which human being crossed the border multiple times increased from 7% in march 2020 come 40% by October 2020. This rise in repeat make the efforts was additionally driven by people’s inability to acquire safety while waiting at the border because that the United says to begin accepting asylum inquiry again, and the growing backlog of people waiting for the resumption the humanitarian handling at the border.

The phenomenon of raised repeat crossings under location 42 has produced a distorted photo of the total number of people crossing the border. With the first nine months of FY 2021, once CBP taped a total of 1,119,204 border encounters, the number of “unique encounters” (people who have not to be taken into custody in the previous 12 months) was 690,718 . Through comparison, end the same duration in FY 2019, CBP videotaped 780,479 border encounters, of which 721,328 were distinct encounters—over 30,000 more than in FY 2021.

Thus, even though there have been nearly 340,000 an ext border meet in FY 2021 than throughout the same period in FY 2019, fewer civilization have newly pertained to the border than 2 years previously (see number 3).

Figure 3: approximates of unique Apprehensions, FY 2005 come FY 2021 with June 2021


Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Congressional spending plan Justifications, FY 2008-2022; Monthly Border Patrol Apprehensions, FY 2000-2020; data on record with author.

Single Adult Migrants have actually Accounted for 2 Thirds of all Border Encounters due to the fact that Title 42

Nearly all single adults room expelled ago to Mexico after cross the border, and also that demographic constitutes the largest variety of individuals crossing the border lot of times, v some world reporting that they have tried and failed to overcome the border dozens of times.The variety of single adult apprehended in ~ the border continued to steadily increase after chairman Biden took office in January 2021. Indigenous January to may 2021, thrust by seasonal migration fads on top of the numbers from the previous year, single adult apprehensions increased from 62,560 to 117,397, before failing come 113,383 in June. In total, single adults comprised 66% of all apprehensions during the an initial six month of 2021 (see figure 4).

This trend of rising solitary adult apprehensions continued in April and May even as the number of families and also children comes to the border to reduce both months. Due to the fact that apprehensions that families and unaccompanied children fell faster in may than single adult apprehensions rose, total apprehensions because that the month fell by 1%, representing the an initial time border apprehensions dropped because spring 2020.

Figure 4: Border Patrol Apprehensions, October 2012 to may 2021, solitary Adults vs. Families and also Children


Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

These trends continued to diverge in June, when the number of single adults apprehended in ~ the border dropped for the an initial time due to the fact that the pandemic began, and also the variety of families and unaccompanied youngsters apprehended in ~ the border quit declining and rose again. Title 42 has actually disrupted many normal patterns in apprehensions in ~ the border and also it is unclear whether seasonal trends will hold. Lifting title 42 would certainly likely change the sample of apprehensions at the border. As soon as Title 42 is ended, it need to be changed with a uniform mechanism at the border the can relatively distinguish in between those seek protection and also those who room not.

The Biden management Continues come Expel most People

The Biden administration continues to swiftly expel most civilization encountered at the border. In the first five complete months the the Biden administration, 64% the all world encountered by the Border Patrol to be expelled under location 42 (see figure 5). While unaccompanied children and also some family members at the border have been allowed to come right into the country and difficulty their deportation in immigrant court, lock represent simply 28% of complete apprehensions over the period. 

Figure 5: processing Outcomes of individuals Encountered by the Border Patrol, February 2020 come June 2021


Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Southwest Border Encounters.

As a result, significantly fewer civilization are being admitted right into the joined States and also placed into normal deportation proceedings when compared to 2019, even when considering the enhanced numbers of solitary adults and a record number of unaccompanied children crossing the border (see figure 6). If the Biden management continues the practice of expelling many people arriving at the border, apprehension numbers will certainly increase above 2019 levels also though substantially fewer human being are being processed into the country.

Figure 6: people Apprehended through the Border Patrol and Not Expelled, October 2012 come June 2021


Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Southwest Border Encounters.

Record Apprehensions that Unaccompanied youngsters Continue to Pose Humanitarian handling Challenges

Under U.S. Law, one “unaccompanied child” is defined as a human under the period of 18 who arrives at the border without a parent or a formal legal guardian; meaning even a kid who arrives at the border with an additional family member such as an aunt, uncle, or grandparents is quiet “unaccompanied” through law. Unaccompanied children from nations other than Mexico and also Canada qualify for heightened legitimate protections to ensure the they space not the victim of trafficking, consisting of the best to show up before an immigration judge fairly than be topic to “expedited removal” at the border.

Since 2013, there have actually been periodic boosts in the number of unaccompanied children getting here at our border and seeking protection, including in 2014, 2016, and also 2019 (see number 7). In 2020, as result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the variety of unaccompanied kids apprehended at the border dropped substantially to a low of 712 in April 2020. This figures started to climb again in the summer the 2020 and increased steadily with the fall, getting to 4,853 in December 2020.

Figure 7: Unaccompanied kids Apprehended by the Border Patrol, October 2012 to June 2021


Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Southwest Border Encounters.

After chairman Biden take it office, significantly more unaccompanied children and also families began arriving at the border. As soon as a commonwealth appeals court lifted the stimulate halting CBP native expelling unaccompanied youngsters on January 29, the Biden administration chose to save the status quo in location by issuing a brand-new order native the Centers for condition Control and also Prevention exempting unaccompanied children from title 42.

In march 2021, the variety of unaccompanied kids taken into CBP custody peaked in ~ a document 18,951—significantly more than the previous document of 11,861 in might 2019—before dropping 25.3% by may to 14,158 and then rebounding slightly in June to 15,018. This increase in February and also March brought about an huge bottleneck to construct in CBP detention facilities because the government could not carry the youngsters to the Office of refugee Resettlement (ORR) quick enough.

To get children out the CBP custody, the Biden administration began opening over a dozen “emergency flow shelters” roughly the country, doubling ORR capacity within a issue of weeks. Unlike permanent shelters run by ORR, “emergency flow shelters” carry out not have to go with a state licensing procedure intended to ensure they space providing suitable care for children. As a result, some have actually raised worry over the fact that ORR had to reduced corners when erecting new facilities on brief notice.

The initiative of was standing up an ext than a dozen emergency influx shelters appears to have actually helped alleviate the populace of unaccompanied kids in CBP custody. The number of children in CBP custody declined from a high that 5,767 on in march 28 to a short of 455 on might 10 (see number 6).

Although the Biden administration’s growth of ORR capacity helped reduce the number of children held in Border Patrol custody by mid-April, there remain far-reaching concerns concerning the capacity of ORR to release children to sponsors quickly enough to clear a farming backlog in ORR. Most sponsors are family members of the children, which must make the sponsorship process easier. Follow to DHS, an ext than 80% of unaccompanied youngsters have a family member in the joined States, and also in 40% of situations that household member is a parent.

The number of children in ORR custody peaked at a document high the 22,557 on April 29, with much more than half held in “emergency flow shelters.” provided the range of the challenge, ORR struggled at first to discover sufficient staff to carry out the background checks essential to verify familial relationships and vet various other sponsors, leading the Biden management to ask for volunteers across the federal federal government to help procedure unaccompanied children. By the finish of April, this effort started to salary off and the number of children in ORR custody stopped growing, then began dropping consistently by at an early stage May, a tendency which ongoing into June.

However, together the number of unaccompanied kids coming to the border began rising progressively again through June, the administration’s progress has stalled (see figure 8). Through late July, the Biden management was unable to mitigate the variety of children in federal government custody listed below 15,000, due in part to slowing number of releases indigenous ORR custody to families.

Figure 8: Unaccompanied kids Held in CBP and HHS ORR Custody, march 23–July 19


Source: Health and Human Services and Department of homeland Security, Unaccompanied youngsters Daily Report (excludes youngsters in transit indigenous CBP come HHS). * Data no reported on this days.

Although the Biden management has made clear progression in reuniting unaccompanied kids with sponsors inside the joined States, the problems in “emergency influx shelters” continue to current a concern. When each sanctuary is different, at some locations kids are held for main with small access to services or quality care. Advocates and also children have reported seriously inadequate problems that have led come children coming to be suicidal or traumatized in countless of these shelters, particularly at the solitary largest sanctuary in existence, on fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas.

While part have referred to as for the Biden management to resume expelling unaccompanied children, over there is no evidence that location 42 had any type of deterrent effect on unaccompanied children. The number of children apprehended at the border raised every month native April 2020 with November 2020, once the Trump management was compelled to protect against expelling children, and also has fallen stability after peaking in in march 2021, without the Biden management targeting unaccompanied children for harsher border policies.

The fate that the unaccompanied kids entering the United claims is uncertain, however data from DHS says that many will eventually be granted permission come remain. Once considering all non-Mexican unaccompanied children—the group which is licensed has been granted to a listening in court—who have arrived in ~ the border since 2013, 57% the those whose instances were completed by mid-2020 were offered permission to continue to be in the unified States.

Trends because that Apprehensions of Families

As with unaccompanied children, the number of families comes to the border flourished slowly throughout 2020 and began increasing more rapidly in January 2021 after president Biden take it office. However, unequal unaccompanied children, whose numbers reached record level in March, the number of families apprehended at the border in 2021 has remained consistently lower than the same duration in 2019.

Despite the Biden administration’s stated commitment to restoring asylum in ~ the border, DHS has ongoing the Trump administration practice the expelling part families, v President Biden himself heralding at his very first press conference that “They should all be going earlier .”

However, DHS is can not to expel most households in component because that a adjust in mexican policy, no U.S. Policy. Due to a Mexican law passed last year, the Mexican government has refuse to accept the expulsion of part families, particularly in the state that Tamaulipas which boundaries the Rio Grande Valley.

The Biden management has tried to circumvent this readjust by flying some households or single adults arrest in Texas to other areas along the border and expelling them there. Households expelled this method describe emotion “tricked” by Border Patrol agents that told lock they would be released, only to find at the last second that they to be being sent earlier to Mexico. In April, ice flew 60 flights from southern Texas to either El Paso or san Diego, v at least 100 families on plank to be expelled on each flight, meaning at the very least 6,000 civilization were “laterally expelled” in one month. In spite of the use of these lateral expulsions, in April a total of 64% of families were enabled to seek asylum in the unified States, up from 60% in March and 51% in February. This number climbed again in May even though fewer families involved the border, v 77.9% of households apprehended through the Border Patrol allowed to look for asylum quite than being expelled. In June, that rose again to 83.9%.

Due come the Trump and also Biden administrations’ policy of expelling families earlier to Mexico, in addition to both administrations’ refusal to reopen the port of entry because that asylum processing, refugees camps have begun springing up across the border again in locations like Tijuana and also Reynosa. Person rights advocates have recorded hundreds of situations of violence and criminal actions carried out against families expelled to Mexico under title 42. Despite the obvious dangers resulted in by repeat expulsions, the Biden management has insisted the Title 42 is actually something that protects migrants.

The ongoing practice that expelling family members has also led some parents to make the agonizing decision to send their children throughout the border alone, discovering their kid will be more secure in the United says than waiting in Mexico. This has likewise led to an increase in unaccompanied youngsters crossing the border.

After excluding households who were expelled under title 42, the number of families admitted into the United says in 2021 to seek asylum is significantly smaller than the number that were admitted in 2019 (see figure 9).

Figure 9: family Unit Apprehensions, January 2018 to June 2021, By handling Outcome


Source: U.S. Customs and also Border Protection, Southwest Border Encounters.

The Border continues to represent a far-ranging Humanitarian Challenge, not a protection Challenge

Both the Obama and Trump managements used harmful deterrence-based plans to shot to prevent people from coming to the united States. Obama detained families and Trump be separate families and also sought to protect against asylum seekers from accessing security in the United states by sending out them right into dangerous conditions in Mexico under MPP and through the institutionalized usage of metering in ~ ports that entry, and also by issuing multiple rules designed to border asylum eligibility.

These policies, which focused only on deterrence without providing any extr capacity to process those seek humanitarian protection, have not operated in the long term. Lock temporarily suppressed arrivals, but the push determinants in house countries and also drivers of migration have actually remained. Within a few years of each punitive policy’s implementation, there was another increase in world coming to the border. What is continue under Biden is neither unique nor unprecedented.

There have actually been spikes in arrivals at the border in 2014, 2016, 2019, and also now 2021. Even family separation in 2018 go not have a far-reaching effect ~ above border encounters, and the numbers of families arriving at the border in 2019 had currently begun to decline before the MPP program went into full effect throughout the border (see figure 10). A new spike to be inevitable. The just question was once it would certainly occur.

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Figure 10: A Timeline of pick Deterrence-Based Policies, politics Changes, and also Border Apprehensions


Source: U.S. Customs and also Border Protection, Southwest Border Encounters.

Years that deterrence-based policies have actually not created anything however short-term declines in the variety of people seek asylum when inflicting far-reaching harm ~ above families and also children. The systems cannot be to turn world away and also send them back to damage in their house countries. Together the Biden management continues come expel families earlier to Mexico, it can not be forgotten that seeking asylum is legal. Solutions to the current instance at the border have to not have “reducing numbers” together their major goal, however instead should ensure the creation of a unified humanitarian technique for every groups—whether lock are solitary adults, families, or children.