The border crisis is worsening, undercutting President Biden’s early assurances that the chaos along the U.S.-Mexico boundary was just a seasonal blip.
The Border Patrol reported the most action in 21 years in June. Agents recorded 178,416 arrests, defying Homeland Security officials’ public predictions that activity at the border would cool off in the summer.
Perhaps more worrying is the surge of illegal immigrant children, which came roaring back after a lull in the late spring. The government last week caught minors at the border faster than it could release them from government-run shelters. The Border Patrol had more than 1,400 in its custody as of Sunday night, the highest number in nearly three months.
Tuesday marked six months into Mr. Biden’s tenure. On just about every measure of mayhem, the border situation looks worse than it did on Jan. 20.
Deaths of migrants are up, and the numbers would be worse but for a record-setting year of Border Patrol rescues.
Seizures of the dangerous synthetic opioid fentanyl have set a record. Court case files are replete with stories of abusive encounters at the hands of smugglers. Agents also report a rise in dangerous high-speed chases as smugglers resist arrest.
“It’s as bad as it’s been in memory,” said Todd Bensman, a national security fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, who has just returned from a trip to Nicaragua and Costa Rica to survey the flow of people headed north. “By every yardstick that exists, the border — and not just the border areas, but the interior areas now — are in crisis.”
The Homeland Security Department tried to bury the latest bad news with a Friday afternoon release of the June border numbers. The report showed that the Border Patrol made 178,416 arrests and Customs and Border Protection officers manning the ports of entry encountered another 10,413 unauthorized migrants.
The last time the raw numbers were that bad was in 2000, when President Clinton was in office and before the Homeland Security Department was established.
CBP said the number of illegal immigrants traveling as family units of parents and juveniles soared to nearly 56,000. Juveniles traveling alone topped 15,000 — just the third time in history that mark has been breached.
Agents in the Rio Grande Valley region of Texas reported capturing 235 people on Friday, 298 on Saturday and 203 on Sunday. The 298 people, including 60 unaccompanied juveniles, were the highest number Rio Grande Valley agents encountered this year.
The administration had insisted that the border flow would slow down by summertime.
Mr. Biden said on March 25 that the border situation on his watch was normal and “happens every year.” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki called the surge “seasonal” and “cyclical.”
They got back up from Tom K. Wong, a professor at the University of California, San Diego. Mr. Wong penned a piece for The Washington Post on March 25 saying the numbers were indeed seasonal and that the increase resulted from pent-up demand from migrants who delayed the journey during the pandemic.
“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,” Mr. Wong wrote.
But the surge has only grown — from fewer than 100,000 people arrested by the Border Patrol in February to about 170,000 in March and nearly 180,000 in June.
Mr. Wong didn’t respond to an inquiry from The Times about his projections. Neither did the White House nor the Homeland Security Department.
The Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the care of children once they are released from the border, said efforts had involved only the back end, not enforcement, and that the trends are unpredictable.
The department did say it has reduced the number of children in its custody from a peak of 22,000 in late April to fewer than 15,000 on most days this month.
All told, more than 55,000 children have been released to sponsors — usually illegal immigrant relatives already in the U.S. — since the border surge began in January.
Immigrant rights advocates said the border numbers show that the crisis exists in other countries, not at the U.S. border.
“Increased apprehensions signal the serious push factors at work that are forcing families and children to make the dangerous journey,” said Ali Noorani, president and CEO of the National Immigration Forum. “The administration must continue its work to address root causes of migration and establish an orderly but humane process at the border.”
Mr. Noorani pointed out that many of those caught at the border are repeat offenders who made an attempt, were expelled under special coronavirus rules and immediately turned around and tried again.
More than a third of all people nabbed in June made other attempts in the previous 12 months.
Put another way, even though the Border Patrol has made more arrests this year than it did during the surge in 2019, the unique number of individuals arrested is lower.
But there are other reasons to be worried. Catch-and-release increased significantly in June to 34,639 migrants. That was up more than 30% compared with March, April and May.
CBP facilities are once again overcapacity. More than 5,000 people were in custody on the southern border on any given day in June. Maximum capacity is supposed to be 4,750, and that’s assuming a best-case scenario with what CBP calls “a homogenous population and full operating status at all facilities.”
In December, the last full month under the Trump team, CBP averaged just 791 people in custody on a given day.
Fentanyl seizures have risen significantly. Experts say the seizure number indicates that the amount of drugs getting through the border is also up.
It’s the same for illegal immigrants: The more caught, the more who get through, agents say.
The Washington Times’ database of smuggling cases shows a growing number of high-speed chases along the border as smugglers resist capture.
One case last week involved a Nissan Armada that fled a highway checkpoint at 110 mph. At one point, the driver ordered nine illegal immigrants out of his car and admonished them to run or risk being shot by agents.
An attempted escape on June 6 reached speeds of 130 mph.
Immigrant rights advocates say they see improvements during Mr. Biden’s six months in office.
Thousands of illegal immigrants who were forced to wait in Mexico for their court hearings have been admitted to the U.S. to wait — and claim a foothold, no matter the outcome of their cases.
Most unaccompanied juveniles, who were turned back under the Trump administration’s pandemic policy, are also admitted.
Activists say that’s more humane than shunting them back across the border. The generosity, though, is also responsible for enticing more children to make the crossing unaccompanied, putting them at risks they might not otherwise have taken.
The Biden administration appears to have mitigated a COVID-19 crisis at the border when it was releasing illegal immigrants without testing or quarantine.
Authorities say they have built the capacity to pay contractors to test the migrants. Those found to be infected with the coronavirus are put into quarantine.
Biden defenders point to a surge in 2019 under Mr. Trump as evidence that the border is unpredictable. They say the new president isn’t to blame for the current situation.
Mr. Bensman, though, said immigrants acknowledge they see an opportunity under Mr. Biden.
“I spend a lot of time with immigrants. I interview them all the time. For a year, I’ve been interviewing them while they’re en route, and this is what they’re telling me,” he said. “To a man, woman and child, it was, ‘There’s an opportunity now because the Democrats opened the door. We’re coming now.’ Why wouldn’t I believe them? Why wouldn’t anybody believe them?”