Homeland Security recorded more than 2 million encounters with illegal immigrants at the southern border last year, shattering previous records, as the Biden administration relaxed the country’s immigration policies.
The department released final December numbers on Monday and announced a snap visit by Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to the border later this week to try to take stock of the situation.
He’ll likely hear the grim details from agents themselves: The numbers have never looked worse for border illegal activity.
Seizures of dangerous drugs like fentanyl are soaring, and migrants are surging in even during what used to be quiet months, and they’re coming from much further afield than ever before.
More than 44% of encounters with unauthorized migrants in December were with people from beyond Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. A year ago that number was just 11%.
Analysts say the Biden administration’s policy changes, including canceling get-tough Trump policies, reviving catch-and-release of migrants at the border and curtailing the ability of ICE to go after people in the interior have convinced would-be illegal immigrants they can make it into the U.S.
“Now is not the time to incentivize unlawful migration by continuing their failed policies,” said Sen. Rob Portman, the top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security Committee. “I call on the Biden administration to implement a plan to curb the influx of unlawful migrants and illicit narcotics so our communities in Ohio and across the country can be safe and secure.”
Chris Magnus, the Biden team’s new commissioner at Customs and Border Protection, tried to put a positive focus on things in his statement announcing the new numbers, pointing to CBP’s work on legal trade.
He celebrated seizures of $30 million in counterfeit goods by officers at ports of entry in December.
Mr. Magnus, who used to be police chief in Tucson, Arizona, gave only passing mention to the illegal flows of people and drugs across the U.S.-Mexico boundary.
There wasn’t much good news to point to.
The 2.03 million encounters CBP notched are by far a record for the agency in numbers dating back to the mid-1990s.
The previous high during that time was about 1.6 million Border Patrol arrests in 2000.
Last month also marked the worst December on record, with the Border Patrol making 170,186 arrests and CBP officers nabbing another 8,654 people.
Usually, numbers dip from November to December as the cold weather and Christmas encourage people to stay home. But this year the numbers rose for just the fourth time in a quarter century.
One bright spot is that the Border Patrol in December nabbed just 11,743 illegal immigrant juveniles traveling without parents — so-called Unaccompanied Alien Children, or UACs. That was the lowest since February.
And UACs and family units — parents and children traveling together — accounted for just 35% of Border Patrol arrests, which is well below the numbers in 2019, during the Trump-era surge.
Part of that, however, is explained by the surge of adult migrants from outside Mexico and Central America.