There were nearly 2.4 million migrant arrests at the nation’s southwestern border this fiscal year — the highest number ever recorded, according to U.S. Border Patrol data released this week.
Officials arrested 227,000 migrants in September, a 11% increase compared with August, the third-highest number recorded this year along the U.S.-Mexico border after May and April.
Migrant arrests, or encounters, for the year were 37% higher than last year, and more than two times the number recorded in 2019. (There were about 458,000 migrant encounters recorded in 2020, but that number was likely affected by the global pandemic.)
The historic pace of people crossing the border into the U.S. has bolstered the narrative of Texas Republicans, who have criticized President Joe Biden and Democrats over their border security policies and refusal to restore Trump-era immigration restrictions. Gov. Greg Abbott has prioritized the issue in his reelection efforts through his signature mission, Operation Lone Star, a $4 billion endeavor.
Since he launched Operation Lone Star a year and a half ago, he has taken drastic measures to curb illegal immigration, including starting construction of a state-funded border wall, deploying thousands of National Guard members, arresting and jailing migrants on state criminal charges, and spending millions on bus tickets to send migrants to other cities run by Democrats.
It’s unclear how many of the 2.4 million encounters represent individuals crossing the border because the count includes people who make repeated attempts during the same fiscal year. Last fiscal year, Customs and Border Protection reported a recidivism rate of 27%.
Programs instituted by the former President Donald Trump like Title 42 and “remain in Mexico,” which required some asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico for decisions on their applications, have likely driven increased recidivism because as more people are removed from the country, more are repeating attempts to enter.
While Biden ended the remain in Mexico policy in August, Title 42 — a pandemic-era public health order that immigration authorities used to turn away migrants based on COVID-19 concerns — remains in place via court order.
Migrant encounters track the number of people arrested by Border Patrol agents in between ports of entry or denied admission into the country at a port of entry and deported. That includes asylum-seekers who are, depending on their circumstances, either immediately expelled to Mexico, deported to their home countries or released into the U.S. while they await the processing of their asylum applications.
During the time Operation Lone Star has been in effect, Texas has seen a 6.9% increase in the total monthly migrant encounters reported at the border. During that time, Arizona has seen a 36.3% increase, California has seen a 30% increase and New Mexico has seen a 47% increase.
In recent months there has been a sharp increase in the number of Venezuelans crossing the border, fleeing political and economic turmoil in their home country. Previously excluded from Title 42, Venezuelans could not be returned to Mexico when apprehended by Border Patrol. But earlier this month the Department of Homeland Security announced that Venezuelans found to have crossed the border illegally would be returned to Mexico and barred from entering the U.S. legally.