The Border Patrol saw a small drop in illegal immigrant encounters at the U.S.-Mexico border in August but still marked one of the worst months on record as the ongoing migrant surge tests the Biden administration.
In a troubling sign, the number of migrant family members ticked up, falling just shy of the all-time record from 2019, according to the data released Wednesday evening by Homeland Security.
All told, the Border Patrol caught 195,558 people last month, down from 200,599 in July. About half of the encounters were people traveling as families or were unaccompanied juveniles.
Customs and Border Protection officers at the border crossings added another 13,329 encounters, which was a slight increase compared to July.
CBP said the numbers look worse because many of the encounters are repeat offenders who tried to jump the border, were expelled back to Mexico under a pandemic border shutdown policy, then quickly tried again.
Of the nearly 209,000 people caught by Border Patrol agents and CBP officers, 25% had made an attempt within the previous 12 months, qualifying as recidivist offenders, the agency said.
The Biden administration has been ramping down the use of the pandemic expulsion power, known as Title 42.
Fewer than half of the encounters in August were subjected to Title 42, down from more than 60% in the early months of the Biden administration.
All told, 1.542 million encounters have been recorded in the fiscal year 2021, with one month left to go.
If September is as bad as July and August, this year will come near to the record for most apprehensions, set in 1986 with 1.693 million.
Almost all of the illegal crossings this year have come in the eight months since President Biden took office.
Republicans said something needs to change.
“I urge the Biden administration to take action because the migrant crisis is a direct result of its decision to dismantle the previous administration’s policies with no consideration of the historic influx it would incite,” said Sen. Rob Portman, the top Republican on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
The Biden team has tried some new get-tough policies over the summer, including flying migrants deeper into Mexico to head off repeat attempts.
Officials said they’re also trying to increase use of expedited removal, which allows for a speedy deportation. Still, only about 72,000 of the 1.5 million people nabbed by the Border Patrol this fiscal year have been subjected to expedited removal.
And migrants who have jumped the border in the past and been officially deported, rather than simply expelled, are now being subjected to criminal prosecution, CBP said.