On August 12, U.S. Customs and Border Protection released its latest data for July showing that overall encounters at the southwest border continue to remain high. July experienced the highest monthly number of migrants detained at the southwest border in two decades. It is possible that the number of migrants apprehended this year may surpass the previous yearly record from fiscal year 2000, in which CBP apprehended 1.67 million migrants. While encounters of single adults dropped for the second month in a row, apprehensions for family units and unaccompanied children (UAC) have seen dramatic increases. This also represents a counter-cyclical trend since migration usually dips during the hot summer months at the border. Interestingly, for the first time, more migrants in CBP’s “other” nationality category arrived than from all other identified nationalities, including Mexico, demonstrating the increasingly global nature of migration at the U.S.-Mexico border.
With the growing number of migrants arriving at the border, the Biden administration continues to face hurdles in managing migrant flows, including providing proper shelters for migrant children. Earlier this month, the administration announced that it would be resuming expedited removal of families who do not qualify for asylum. Additionally, this month, the administration indefinitely renewed the Trump-era policy — Title 42, citing increases in Covid-19 cases due to the Delta variant. Title 42 has remained contentious among immigration experts, who attribute high migrant recidivism rates to the controversial policy.
As seen in Figure 1, CBP encounters1 at the U.S- Mexico border for July continue to set record highs, surpassing high migration months from FY2019 and FY2014. In July 2021, CBP recorded a total of 199,777 arrivals, a 12% increase from June. This brings total CBP encounters for FY2021 to 1.2 million, on pace to become the highest total arrivals in 21 years.
CBP data from July shows that the growth in encounters can be attributed to the continued increase in family and UAC arrivals. While the number of single adults encountered has decreased for the second month in a row, family and UAC apprehensions have increased dramatically. As shown in Figure 2, encounters for single adults decreased by 7.4% in July compared to the previous month. Additionally, in June, single adult encounters had decreased to 113,474 from 117,925 in May. However, encounters for families and UACs increased by 52% and 24.4% respectively from June to July. The 76,056 family encounters were at their highest since May 2019 when there were 84,486 encounters. UAC encounters also jumped to 18,689. The UAC encounter numbers for July are on par with arrivals from March 2021, when CBP recorded 18,719 UAC arrivals at the border.
The July CBP report further reveals that the migration trend at the U.S.-Mexico border is of a global nature. The increase in migrant arrivals from “other countries” than Mexico and the Northern Triangle of Central America have risen by over 500% since FY2020. As shown in Figure 3, since February of 2021, migrants from countries other than Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras have seen the highest relative growth in comparison to Mexico and Central America. In February 2021, only 11,606 migrants from other countries attempted to cross the southern border; in July 2021, that number rose to 57,094, surpassing Mexico, which had 52,838 encounters.
BPC’s earlier report on migrant arrivals from other countries showed that in FY2021 countries such as Brazil, Venezuela, Haiti, and Romania have seen the highest relative growth in migrant encounters from the previous fiscal year. July’s CBP data reinforces those upward trends. This month, countries such as Cuba and Nicaragua saw some of the highest growth in migrant arrivals from June. Cuba’s migrant arrival numbers went from 2,990 in June to 3,450 in July; similarly, Nicaraguans encountered at the border went from 7,357 in June 2021 to 13,309 in July.
These increases may be attributed in part to political unrest and uprisings, forcing many to seek refuge outside of these countries. For example, earlier this month, hundreds of Cuban protesters and dissidents participated in a historic protest against the current Cuban government triggered by shortfalls in food and medical supplies. The situation unfolding in Cuba could lead those leaving the island to seek refuge in the U.S. in higher numbers. Similarly, developing political unrest in Nicaragua, spurred by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s barring of opposition parties from elections allegedly in order to secure a fourth term, may have pushed many Nicaraguans to flee to the country. These events, magnified by COVID-19 and climate catastrophes, may be reflected in higher arrivals, demonstrating that push factors from countries work in stronger ways than U.S. deterrent messaging on migration.
This month, for the first time since April 2020, Title 8 apprehensions surpassed Title 42 expulsions, as shown in Figure 4. A total of 93,781 people were expelled under Title 42, while 105,996 people were apprehended under Title 8. On July 26, DHS announced that expedited removal proceedings would resume for families who were not eligible to be removed under Title 42. DHS also announced that they were beginning expedited removal flights for families “who recently arrived at the southern border, cannot be expelled under Title 42, and do not have a legal basis to stay in the United States” on July 30, warning in the statement that migration journeys to the United States are especially dangerous for families, teenagers, and children.
Expulsions under Title 8 were much higher for families than any other demographic; 73,018 individuals arriving in family units were processed under Title 8, and only 9,948 encounters were processed for expulsion under Title 42. Conversely, only 24,880 single adults were processed under Title 8, while 85,563 single adult encounters were processed under Title 42. It is particularly interesting to note that so far in Fiscal Year 2021, CBP has placed more than 60,500 migrants who are not eligible for expulsion under Title 42 into Expedited Removal proceedings.
Expedited removal could pose an operational and logistical challenge to the administration, in addition to posing a public relations challenge. Expedited removal will likely lead to higher detention numbers (as is historically the case); mandatory detention, along with the travel costs of repatriation, could lead to increased cost. The number of immigrants in detention has doubled since the end of February to almost 27,000 as of July 22, and could continue to climb with the implementation of expedited removal processes.
Managing migration at the southern border continues to be a challenge for the Biden administration. These migration challenges are further exacerbated by the administration’s tactics, which have primarily focused on adopting migration policies from the previous administrations. The administration’s predilection for deterrence policies, as demonstrated by the continued implementation of Title 42 and the expedited removal proceedings, remains the case. However, deterrence is not a strong force to combat the push factors that many of these migrants’ face, as seen by the continued rise in migration numbers this month. To deal with this counter-cyclical and global migration trend, the administration could benefit from realizing that this new normal will require sweeping operational implementation that is large-scale and humane in nature.
1 Encounters includes migrants subject to enforcement actions under immigration law (Title 8) and expulsions under CDC’s public health order (Title 42). Enforcement Actions refers to apprehensions or inadmissibles processed under CBP’s immigration authority. Inadmissibles refers to individuals encountered at ports of entry who are seeking lawful admission into the United States but are determined to be inadmissible, individuals presenting themselves to seek humanitarian protection under our laws, and individuals who withdraw an application for admission and return to their countries of origin within a short timeframe. Apprehensions refers to the physical control or temporary detainment of a person who is not lawfully in the U.S. which may or may not result in an arrest. Expulsions refers to individuals encountered by USBP and OFO and expelled to the country of last transit or home country in the interest of public health under Title 42 U.S.C. 265.