Immigration Reform – The Choice of Words To Create Fear: What the Numbers Say About The So-Called Border Surge

Words are chosen to frame an argument.

It is a mistake to assume that it is the Republicans or the Trump supporters that are the only ones against immigration reform. In immigration there are many competing forces working against reform. Some oppose parts of it while others oppose immigration in general. The reasons vary from simple fear to the changing demographic face of America to simply job security.

Joe Biden has laid out an ambitious immigration reform package. It excites some and worries others. Therein lies the choice of words from the media. Words like “surge,” “crisis,” or even “invasion” are designed to frame the national narrative about Biden’s immigration reform package.

Note that the trigger words are coming from almost all the news media. The reason is because Biden has proposed to fundamentally change America’s immigration policies.

The question then becomes how you define what is happening on the border now.

Is it a “surge”? Is it a “crisis”? Or is it simply part of a long-running global migration pattern?

To understand it we must see what the historical numbers have to say.

A “surge” would mean that a large group of migrants suddenly decided to come to America. If that were the case then it would be fair to argue that the Biden administration’s immigration policies caused the “surge”.

If it were a “crisis” then the argument could be made that now is not the time for immigration reform because control of the border has been lost.

So, what is it, a “surge” or a “crisis”? Or is nothing more than a pattern that has evolved over the years.

This is what the number say.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) is primarily responsible for processing immigrants at the border and interdicting undocumented immigrants already in the country. CBP processes immigrants at ports of entry, either allowing them entry because they have the required paperwork, meet specific requirements such as seeking asylum or denying them entry for diverse reasons. Those denied entry into the country are considered “inadmissible” because of the lack of the proper paperwork, because they are legally not allowed into the country, for example a criminal record, or because they are deemed a health risk.

Undocumented immigrants are “apprehended” in the country and processed from there.

The migrants at the border can fall into both categories. If they approach an immigration official at a point of entry and request asylum, if they are turned back, they are deemed “inadmissible”. Migrants who turn themselves into an immigrant official in the country, or who are apprehended are labeled “apprehended” by CBP.

The CBP tracks both types of removals.

It is important to note that although “apprehensions” are a useful metric to understanding the migrant flows, it does not include the number of undocumented immigrants that make it into the country without being apprehended.

Also, “apprehensions,” although a useful metric, does not account for the allocation of CBP resources as prioritized by the federal leadership. For example, the Trump administration focused on “zero tolerance” ordering immigration officials to fully apply the immigration laws. The Biden administration, on the other hand, has ordered CBP to be more flexible.

It is also important to understand that migrants typically attempted to evade immigration officials in prior years rather than turning themselves in when they first encounter an immigration official. This is because economic immigrants sought to reach their workplaces instead of seeking asylum to remain in the country. Under the asylum laws, migrants are supposed to be given the opportunity to state their asylum case before being deported, and thus they sought out immigration officials to claim asylum.

Adding to the complexity is Title 42.

On March 1, 2020, the Trump administration used Title 42, Section 265, of the public health code to begin removing immigrants from the country. The Biden administration has not rescinded the Trump health order. Because of Covid-19, the Surgeon General has ordered the closure of the border to migrants because of the dangers of the pandemic.

Instead of being deported, which has consequences on the migrant’s ability to enter the U.S. in the future, CBP, has instead, been using Title 42 to expel migrants back to México under the health emergency. Because it is a health emergency, the removal is expedited and has little consequence on the migrant (in terms of entering the U.S.) because they were not processed under immigration laws, but, rather, are expelled due to the health emergency.

Title 42 expulsions allows CBP to remove migrants without processing them thus allowing for faster expulsions. It should be noted that Title 42 expulsions were rarely used prior to Covid-19.

It should also be noted that immigrants who wish to enter the United States with the proper paperwork may also be refused entry, deemed inadmissible, under Title 42.

Since March 2020, CBP, has been tracking migrants expelled or not allowed into the country under Title 42 separately from “apprehensions” by the agency.

Using Title 42 for removing migrants has been criticized. Future articles will explore this issue further.

However, as suggested by the following graph, Title 42 expulsions (for health reasons) have far surpassed the Title 8 (immigration violations) expulsions starting the following month after the Trump administration ordered the application of Title 42 for deportations.

Title 42 Expulsions

The rising use of Title 42 to deport immigrants suggests that the U.S. government is using Title 42 to bypass cumbersome legal requirements to deport migrants back to México. This remains true even under the Biden administration.

Looking at the border apprehensions from 1925 to 2019, the latest data available from government officials clearly shows that there is no “crisis” on the border currently.

Border Apprehensions 1925 – 2019

As the reader can see, the three most recent “surges” in migrant apprehensions occurred in 1986, 2000 and 2018. In 2019 there was a drop on migrant apprehensions.

In 1986, the U.S. enacted the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. The Ronald Reagan (R) immigration reform package made it illegal to hire undocumented workers and legalized millions of immigrants already in the country.

In 2000, Bill Clinton pushed for another amnesty program. It was not enacted.

In 2010, Congress adopted the Legal Family Equity Act (LIFE). It allowed for family reunification by expediting the wait time for immigrants reuniting with families already in the United States, but held up due to quotas limiting immigrants from certain countries.

It has been argued that Biden’s immigration reform initiative is driving migrants to come to America in record numbers. It is difficult to ascertain the accuracy of this belief because the metrics for 2020 and 2021 are incomplete and the Biden administration has been in office for less than three months.

Unaccompanied Minor Migrants

Readers should understand that the so-called phenomena of unaccompanied children migrants is not new. It has existed for decades as part of global migration patterns. Its root causes vary from war to human trafficking to normal migration patterns.

In the case of the United States, unaccompanied minors arriving at the border has been documented by CBP as far back as 2009. In 2009, CBP reported it had encountered 19,418 unaccompanied minors. The number of encounters began to rise in 2012 until it peaked in 2014 at 68,541 for that fiscal year. The number of minors encountered by CBP varied between 40,000 and 60,000 each fiscal year between 2015 and 2018. The number of minors encountered at the border jumped to 80,634 in 2019, according to CBP.

Apprehensions Of Minors At The Southern Border, 2018 – 2021

As the reader can observe from the graph above, almost six months into fiscal year 2021, CBP has reported encountering 30,262 unaccompanied minors. Even if we were to double the number of encounters through the rest of the 2021 fiscal year, the number of unaccompanied minors being encountered by the Border Patrol would not reach the 81,585 encountered in 2019, when the Trump administration was enforcing immigration policy.

However, the question remains, are unaccompanied minors “surging” the border?

Apprehensions FY 2018 to 2021

Looking at the preceding analysis of migrant apprehensions starting in 2018, through about six months into fiscal year 2021 it becomes apparent that migration by minors follows the patterns of other migrants.

The uptick some readers may notice for 2021 cannot be directly attributed to the Biden administration as there are many possible causes for an increase in apprehensions, including Covid 19, weather patterns and other factors. It will be impossible to draw conclusions about a “surge” of migrants or unaccompanied migrant children until the 2021 numbers are available.

To suggest there is a “surge” at the border is not supported by the historical record.

Because the data does not support the use of terms such as “crisis” or “surge,” the continued use of such terminology is disingenuous. The use of the terms are more likely designed to mold the national narrative on Biden’s immigration reform initiatives.

In future articles, we will explore the patterns of migration, the causes and delve deeper into the many immigration issues facing the country. We will also analyze why minors are migrating alone.

Author’s note:
This is article is a part of a series of articles looking into the reasons behind the rising immigration crisis on the border, the national debate on immigration and the reasons why immigration policy in America has evolved the way it has. Over the next few articles, this publication and El Paso Politics will continue to develop what and how the American immigration system is designed to control how many and how frequent people of color can come to America. Readers are encouraged to read: The Nazis in El Paso: Why White Supremacy Is Engrained in El Paso to get an introduction of why American immigration policy is designed to limit the changing of America’s demography by limiting what types of immigrants are acceptable to the policy makers.

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