Contextualizing the Border “Crisis”

Much is being made about the “crisis” at the southern border, with many laying the blame on the Biden administration.

While having people trying to enter the U.S. without visas is never desirable, the current situation is not new, the numbers are not unprecedented and the root causes of the arrivals are complex and not simply the product of a change in administration.  They range from violence and poverty and recent natural disasters pushing people out of their countries to find safety and prospects for a future, to the termination by the Trump administration of a program that allowed Central American minors to apply for U.S. protection from inside their home countries, to the need for international aid to improve conditions in those countries and reduce the “push” factors, to the near total dismantling of an orderly asylum processing framework at the U.S.-Mexico border that forced tens of thousands of people seeking asylum to wait in unsafe conditions in Mexican border towns, and to outdated immigration laws that fail to provide sufficient avenues for individuals to enter the U.S. legally.

Here are a few resources to help put what’s happening into context:

  • Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) data on southern border apprehensions, showing that the current numbers of people so far this fiscal year crossing the border, plus the number of people applying but being rejected for entry at U.S. border posts, are on track, by the time the fiscal year ends in September, to be similar to the 1,148,024 number in FY 2019 during the Trump administration.
  • CBP data of encounters by month for FY 2018 through FY 2021 year-to-date (YTD)  showing the cyclical increase in apprehensions at the southern border that is typical beginning usually in March of each fiscal year (but with asylum seekers or others being pushed back into Mexico starting in March 2020 due to COVID-19,  FY2020 was atypical).  This data also shows that the increase in apprehensions began by August 2020, during the prior administration.
  • CBP data from FY 1960 through FY 2019 showing that beginning in 1983, through 2019, there were 19 years where more than 1 million to over 1.6 million people were apprehended at the southern border – including during the Reagan, Clinton and Bush administrations.  (The numbers of total people stopped from entering each year are actually higher than the published numbers, which don’t include those rejected for entry at U.S. border posts).