Accurate Information on Border Crossings - We Welcome

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Often the news reported about the U.S.-Mexico border is inflammatory, and it’s difficult to know if the numbers being shared by reporters or politicians are accurate. However, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) provides monthly data that can add context to these reports.

Before we get to the data, first let’s take a look at some of the terminology used to describe border crossings. Sometimes the numbers are described by the media as “arrests,” but it’s important to note that the numbers reported by CBP are encounters. These encounters include apprehensions by Border Patrol, Title 42 expulsions, and also those who were deemed inadmissible [1] at ports of entry by the Office of Field Operations. Many of these encounters do not involve detention or an arrest. They also do not always involve an illegal border crossing.

Chart from the National Immigration Forum

While it is unlawful to cross the border into the U.S. without inspection by an officer at a port of entry, encounters with the Office of Field Operations that occur at ports of entry are not unlawful. Anyone has the legal right to seek asylum at our ports of entry [2], even if their claim is ultimately unsuccessful. Therefore, when a report is citing all border encounters as “illegal crossings” or “arrests,” this is inaccurate.

There are a few helpful places to look to locate border data. Every month, data is reported for the U.S.-Mexico border on the Southwest Land Border Encounters page, and for all land borders on the Nationwide Encounters page. These pages report all encounters, and have filters that allow targeted searches by demographic, fiscal year, citizenship, etc. The Component filter differentiates between those encountered by Border Patrol (meaning they were apprehended between ports of entry after crossing the border) and those encountered by the Office of Field Operations (at ports of entry, meaning they haven’t actually crossed the border yet).

For an example, let’s take a look at the total border crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border for Fiscal Year 2022, which spanned from October 1, 2021 through September 30, 2022. On the Southwest Land Border Encounters page, we would use the FY dropdown to select 2022, and click apply. This shows 2,378,944 encounters [3].  We can narrow these results down further under the Component dropdown, to find that 2,206,436 of those encounters were with Border Patrol and 172,508 were with the Office of Field Operations. We can also find under the Title of Authority breakdown that 1,079,507 of these encounters were subject to Title 42 expulsions. This tells us that while over 2 million encounters occurred, almost half of those resulted in rapid expulsions. Therefore, media reports indicating that over 2 million people entered the U.S. in 2022 were also false, since many of these individuals were expelled.

Another important factor impacting the border in recent years is the high rates of recidivism, or repeat crossings, due to Title 42 expulsions. Unlike removals under Title 8, the federal statute that governs immigration processing, there are no legal repercussions for multiple crossings when someone has been expelled under Title 42 authority. Therefore, we have seen high rates of repeat crossings by the same individuals. This must also be taken into account when looking at border data, since 2 million encounters do not equal 2 million individuals encountered. In 2021, CBP began releasing recidivism rates in their Monthly Operational Updates, as well as reporting the number of unique individuals encountered. For example, the Southwest Land Border Encounters page reported 227,547 encounters for September 2022, but the Monthly Operational Update page clarifies that 182,704 unique individuals were encountered.

Finally, the use of Title 42 led to more unlawful crossings between ports of entry since 2020 due to those ports being closed to asylum seekers during the pandemic. Historically, as accessibility to ports of entry increases, we’ve seen more people lawfully approaching ports of entry rather than crossing illegally and being apprehended by Border Patrol. An example of this was Haitians in 2022. For many months, most Haitians were being expelled under Title 42, but when the policies changed in the summer of 2022, the number of Haitians approaching ports of entry vs. crossing irregularly between ports sharply increased. By August 2022 97% of Haitian arrivals were at ports of entry rather than through unlawful border crossings, a trend that has continued into FY2023 [4].



[1] It is important to note that just because someone is classified as inadmissible by CBP, this does not mean that they are not allowed into the country. CBP defines “inadmissibles” as, “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.” (Emphasis added) CBP officers have discretion to grant “parole” and allow entry for certain reasons including humanitarian concerns. An example of this occurred in the spring of 2022, when thousands of Ukrainians were paroled into the U.S. at the southwest border despite the fact that they presented at the border without documentation. Because of urgent humanitarian concerns, CBP had a temporary policy of allowing entry for most Ukrainians, but they were still classified and reported as inadmissibles

[2] Additionally, even if someone crossed the border illegally, they still have a legal right to claim asylum within one year of entering the U.S. See: 

[3] Data collected on January 25, 2023. Subject to change as data may be updated at a later date by CBP.

[4] Data as of December 2022 showed that 17,299 of 17,989 CBP encounters (96%) with Haitians in FY 2023 were with the Office of Field Operations. Accessed from the Nationwide Encounters page on January 25, 2023.



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