The Border Patrol set its all-time annual record for arrests along the southern border in fiscal 2021, according to data that puts a grim exclamation point on President Biden’s stewardship of the boundary.
The 1,659,206 arrests recorded over the past 12 months tops the record-breaking number for fiscal 2000 by about 15,000.
Fiscal 2021, which ended on Sept. 30, also set records for unaccompanied illegal immigrant juveniles nabbed, for trafficking of fentanyl and perhaps for most deaths recorded on the U.S. side of the border.
Of the nearly 1.7 million people agents arrested, nearly 500,000 — about the size of the city of Miami — were either caught and released immediately at the border or turned over to other federal agencies without any immediate prospect of deportation.
In addition to the Border Patrol, which snares illegal immigrants who try to sneak in between the ports of entry, officers along the southern border encountered another 75,000 or so illegal immigrants who tried to come through the official border crossings without authorization.
In September alone, Border Patrol agents and Customs and Border Protection officers recorded 192,001 encounters with illegal immigrants. That’s the worst September on record, though the numbers are slight improvements from July and August, when more than 200,000 encounters were recorded each month.
President Trump, who oversaw a border surge in 2019 and then instituted a network of policies that left the boundary far quieter, said Mr. Biden squandered his work.
“Our country is being poisoned with the millions of people that are illegally flowing through our borders, in most cases not even questioned or stopped,” Mr. Trump said in a statement Sunday. “Many are criminals from the emptied prisons of other countries, most of these are very dangerous people.”
He offered no proof for the latter claim but gave Mr. Biden advice for turning the tide, including to resume construction of the border wall.
Other Republicans said the staggering arrest statistics, released in a Friday afternoon news dump that seemed designed to downplay their significance, should derail Democrats’ plans to include a deportation amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants in the budget bill being hashed out on Capitol Hill.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, demanded an “urgent meeting” with Mr. Biden. He said the president insisted in March that the surge was just a blip and was no reason for concern.
“The border crisis transcends party lines,” Mr. McCarthy wrote in a letter to the president.
In releasing the numbers, the Biden administration left it to CBP’s acting commissioner, Troy Miller, to defend the chaos.
Mr. Miller said his employees are making “tireless efforts.” He took some solace in the slight decline in September’s arrest numbers compared with July and August.
“The men and women of CBP continued to rise admirably to the challenge despite the strain associated with operating during a global pandemic that has claimed far too many lives among our frontline personnel,” he said in a statement.
Almost all of the chaos, including 83% of the Border Patrol’s yearly arrests, has happened in the eight months since Mr. Biden took office.
The president has yet to visit the border, though he said at a CNN town-hall meeting Thursday night that he figures a visit is overdue. He blamed his tardiness on the slew of crises and disasters with which he’s dealing.
Republicans said the record arrest numbers should prod the president to make the trip.
For now, he has assigned Vice President Kamala Harris to try to stem the flow of people leaving their homes in Central America to head north. He says conditions at home are pushing people to leave.
Security experts say the more considerable explanation is Mr. Biden’s policy changes: relaxed enforcement giving migrants hope of gaining a foothold in the U.S. In many cases, they’re correct.
During the last full month under Mr. Trump, in December, Border Patrol agents caught and released just 17 people. In July, under Mr. Biden, that number was more than 60,000.
Adding to Mr. Biden’s challenge is that the migration problem has spread worldwide. More than 36% of those encountered in September — a record share — were from outside Mexico or the Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
Even if Ms. Harris’ focus on Central America had paid dividends, it would not have come close to solving the border problem.
The Biden administration has erased most of the get-tough policies the Trump administration implemented after the 2019 border surge. Still, it has kept the Title 42 authority that has allowed immediate expulsion of many illegal immigrants because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A majority of migrants encountered over the past year have been expelled.
That has drawn fierce attacks from the left for Mr. Biden and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
Immigration activists say the Title 42 authority, denying asylum-seekers a chance at making their claims, is illegal and inhumane.
The one exception the Biden team has made is for unaccompanied children. The White House said Title 42 expulsions in those cases would be too cruel.
That ignited a record surge of children rushing the border, though their numbers did tick down in September, marking one of the few bright spots to end the fiscal year.
Fewer than 15,000 were apprehended in the month, down from highs closer to 19,000 during several months earlier this year.
Still, the fiscal year was by far the worst year on record for unaccompanied juveniles. Nearly 147,000 were nabbed over the past 12 months. During the late spring, they had piled up at Border Patrol stations, creating a humanitarian crisis.
The country also likely set a record for border deaths in 2021, based on the pace through this summer.
Methamphetamine and fentanyl seizures also set records. Fentanyl more than doubled from 2020, which had the previous record.
Agents say the more drugs seized, the more are getting through.
In September, some 15,000 Haitians created an unprecedented situation by crossing the Rio Grande and establishing a beachhead in Texas. The Homeland Security Department scrambled to process them and released the vast majority deeper into the U.S.
The department also faces accusations of abuse and mistreatment of Haitians, with images of Border Patrol agents on horseback attempting to block some migrants. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas promised an investigation to be completed in “days,” but nothing has been released.