Biden Administration Tries to Sugar-Coat February Border Numbers
FAIR Take | March 2023
On March 16, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued a press release to tout a decrease in illegal border encounters at the southern border. According to the new data, in February 2023, the Border Patrol encountered 128,877 illegal aliens. While this is roughly equal to January encounters (128,913), the Biden Administration is heralding the numbers because it marks a decrease from December, when the number of Border Patrol encounters at the southern border was 221,693.
While these numbers appear promising at first blush, they don’t tell the whole story. In fact, they represent only part of the total: namely, the number of illegal aliens who tried to illegally cross into the U.S. between ports of entry. They do not include the number of illegal aliens who show up at official ports of entry without documents, hoping they will simply be processed and released into the U.S. This is important because the ports of entry are staffed by the Office of Field Operations (OFO), not the Border Patrol, and therefore the number of illegal aliens arriving at ports of entry are counted in a different column of statistics.
Indeed, when February encounters of illegal aliens between ports of entry (Border Patrol) and at ports of entry (OFO) are added together, the total number actually increased by two percent.
To policy experts, this is not a surprise; it is a direct result of policy changes made by the Biden Administration. In January, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a new policy which allows nationals of Venezuela, Nicaragua, Haiti and Cuba to bypass existing immigration programs, fly directly into the United States, and be released on parole instead of crossing the border illegally. DHS also issued a new asylum policy several weeks ago that requires asylum-seekers to present themselves at ports of entry, with an appointment made through the CBP One App, in order to be eligible for asylum. In both instances, the number of aliens crossing into the U.S. will not show up on Border Patrol statistics. They will show up in Office of Field Operation statistics.
It also remains to be seen whether this downturn in Border Patrol encounters will last. The Biden Administration is facing numerous challenges with respect to its border policies. Last week, a federal judge in Florida vacated the Administration’s policy of releasing aliens at the southwest border into the U.S. on parole. The inability to parole aliens en masse into the U.S. will require that border officials process the massive flow of illegal aliens under the law, which requires the use of expedited removal and detention (See 8 USC 1225).
In addition, under pressure from open-borders advocates, the Biden Administration has announced it will soon be ending the Title 42 authority that allows border officials to simply expel illegal aliens. Thus, starting in May, border officials will no longer have this option to handle the surge of illegal aliens crossing the border. While the Biden Administration was not using Title 42 authority uniformly and had carved out numerous exceptions, it did use Title 42 authority for a noticeable share of illegal aliens apprehended at the border. The loss of this authority will put further strain on border officials and the immigration system as a whole.
Nevertheless, the Biden Administration did not waste the opportunity to laud the February numbers, pointing out that Border Patrol encounters were at their lowest level since the first month President Biden took office. Most objective observers, however, would agree that is hardly an accomplishment, as Border Patrol encounters in February of this year were still 32 percent higher than February 2021 (97,643).
Moreover, it is hard to imagine that any average American would consider the Biden Administration’s immigration policies a success after yesterday’s House Homeland Security Committee hearing. During that hearing, Raul Ortiz, Chief of the U.S. Border Patrol, testified that the federal government does not have “operational control” of the southern border – a statutorily defined requirement that his agency is obligated to meet. Chief Ortiz also admitted that operational control is not even a goal of the Biden Administration and, instead, the agency’s “new strategy is geared toward mission advantage” – an entirely made-up standard that has no legal definition.