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FACT CHECK: Increased Border Crossings Part Of “Predictable Pattern”

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2021 Is Unique Only In That The Normal Seasonal Increase In Crossings Is Combined With The Backlog Of Those Who Didn’t Cross In 2020 Due to Coronavirus


 With recent media coverage focusing on the number of crossings at the border, it is important to remember that immigration is historically seasonal, and the current growth is comparable to previous increases combined with a 2020 backlog due to limited migration because of the coronavirus pandemic. Furthermore, the evidence suggests that the increase is primarily due to pent up demand and “push factors” – not the arrival or “messaging” of the Biden administration.

The current situation is predictable and fits into historical trends of seasonal border crossings. 

  • HEADLINE: “The Migrant ‘Surge’ At The U.S. Southern Border Is Actually A Predictable Pattern.” [Washington Post, 3/25/21]
  • The Current Rise In Border Crossings Is “Predictable,” And There Is No Clear Evidence The Overall Increase In Border Crossings In 2021 Can Be Attributed To Biden Administration Policies. “Underappreciated in the developing narrative is just how predictable the rise in border crossings is. We analyzed monthly U.S. Customs and Border Protection data from 2012 through February and found no clear evidence that the overall increase in border crossings in 2021 can be attributed to Biden administration policies. Rather, the current increase fits a pattern of seasonal changes in undocumented immigration combined with a backlog of demand because of 2020s coronavirus border closure.” [Washington Post, 3/25/21]
  • Immigration Is Seasonal And Shifts Upward At This Time Of Year. “At the same time, CBP’s numbers reveal that undocumented immigration is seasonal, shifting upward this time of year. During fiscal year 2019, under the Trump administration, total apprehensions increased 31 percent during the same period, a bigger jump than we’re seeing now. We’re comparing fiscal year 2021 to 2019 because the pandemic changed the pattern in 2020. In 2018, the increase is about 25 percent from February to March — somewhat smaller but still pronounced.” [Washington Post, 3/25/21]
  • From 2012 To 2020, Immigrant Apprehensions Increased Each Month From January To May Before A Drop Off During The Dangerous Summer Months. “But was 2019 an aberration? In the figure below, we combine data from fiscal year 2012 to fiscal year 2020 to show the cumulative total number of apprehensions for each month over these eight years. As you can see, migrants start coming when winter ends and the weather gets a bit warmer. We see a regular increase not just from January to February, but from February to March, March to April, and April to May — and then a sharp drop-off, as migrants stop coming in the hotter summer months when the desert is deadly. That means we should expect decreases from May to June and June to July.” [Washington Post, 3/25/21]
  • The Number Of Immigrants Encountered By The Border Patrol Is Likely Inflated, As Current Policies Incentivize Immigrants To Attempt To Cross The Border Multiple Times, Leading Them To Be Counted Again And Again. “There’s also reason to believe the number of migrants encountered by Border Patrol overall is inflated. Title 42 created perverse incentives for single adults to attempt to cross the border multiple times. Before the pandemic, they might have been dissuaded from trying again for fear of facing criminal prosecution for illegal entry and disqualifying themselves from legal migration pathways, such as asylum. But under the pandemic-era process, they are merely fingerprinted, processed, and dropped off in Mexico without consequence. CBP estimates that the resulting recidivism rate — the number of people who try to cross, get caught, and try again — is roughly 40 percent. (By comparison, the recidivism rate was about 7 percent in fiscal year 2019.)” [Vox, 3/27/21]

The perceived increase in crossings in 2021 is consistent with historical trends, although it is exacerbated by a backlog from 2020 due to the coronavirus and crises in the migrants’ countries of origin.

  • The Increase In Migration In 2021 Is Consistent With Historical Trends Combined With The Pent-Up Demand Due To A Lack Of Immigration In 2020. “In other words, in fiscal year 2021, it appears that migrants are continuing to enter the United States in the same numbers as in fiscal year 2019 — plus the pent-up demand from people who would have come in fiscal year 2020, but for the pandemic. That’s shown in the first figure, earlier, in which the blue trend line for the five months of data available for fiscal year 2021 (October, November, December, January and February) neatly reflects the trend line for fiscal year 2019 — plus the difference between fiscal year 2020 and fiscal year 2019.” [Washington Post, 3/25/21]
  • The Coronavirus Pandemic Forced The Virtual Closure Of The Southwestern Border. “The number of monthly apprehensions had fallen to just 16,182 in April 2020, shortly after the coronavirus pandemic forced the virtual closure of the southwestern border and slowed migration across much of the world.” [Pew Research Center, 3/15/21]
  • The “Push” Factors That Increase Immigration Are “At The Highest They’ve Been In Quite Some Time.” “‘The push factors are at the highest they’ve been at quite some time,’ said Mr. Reichlin-Melnick [the policy counsel for the American Immigration Council, which advocates on behalf of immigrants], ticking off political corruption, instability, poverty and violence in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. The economic toll of the pandemic and two hurricanes that battered the region toward the end of last year further exacerbated difficult conditions.” [New York Times, 3/20/21]
  • 2020: Two Category Four Hurricanes Struck Nicaragua, Honduras, And Guatemala, Which Left Millions In Need Of Aid, Exacerbated Poverty, And Worsened Access To Clean Water, Giving Many Residents There A Push To Migrate. “Migrants and migrant children travel from their origin countries — primarily Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador — to the southern U.S. border for a multitude of reasons: worsened economic conditions due to COVID-19, cartel violence, corruption, natural disasters, agricultural diseases or droughts and, among others, the vagaries of U.S aid. These issues have factored into people’s migration decisions for decades. One such push factor challenged the Central America region in November, when two category-4 hurricanes struck Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala within a two-week span. More than 200 people were killed, and millions were left in need of aid. The hurricanes exacerbated poverty and worsened access to clean water, giving an extra nudge to people considering northern migration.” [Austin American-Statesman, 3/29/21]

There is no evidence to suggest that Biden policies are responsible for the increase in border crossings, and the Biden administration has cautioned potential immigrants against making the journey. 

  • There Is No Evidence To Suggest That Biden Administration Policies Caused The Increase In Border Crossings By Unaccompanied Minors, Although Smugglers Have Been Exploiting Clients By Telling Them Crossing The Border Would Be Easier With Trump Gone. “What is more unusual at this moment is the increase in border crossings by unaccompanied minors, which appears to be more than just a seasonal pattern. This poses a more distinctive challenge for the Biden administration, although it is also possible that there will be a similar drop in crossings by minors during the summer months. Have Biden administration policies caused this increase? There is no evidence to suggest that this is the case. Organizations working with asylum seekers and unaccompanied children in the San Diego-Tijuana border region tell us that even before President Biden took office smugglers may have been exploiting potential clients by claiming it would be easier to enter the United States once the Trump administration was gone. This is supported by the literature that examines changes in the fees smugglers charge at the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as a DHS report on the same subject.” [Washington Post, 3/25/21]
  • President Biden Discouraged Would-Be Immigrants From Coming To The United States. “President Joe Biden discouraged would-be migrants from coming to the United States as his administration scrambles to respond to a surge of unaccompanied migrant children coming into the US. ‘I can say quite clearly: Don’t come,’ Biden told ABC in an interview aired on Tuesday. The President continued: ‘We’re in the process of getting set up, don’t leave your town or city or community.’” [CNN, 3/16/21]
  • HEADLINE: “’The Border Is Not Open’: Biden Administration Seeks Foreign Aid To Slow Migration.” [NPR, 3/10/21]