The Border Patrol set its all-time annual record for arrests along the southern border in fiscal year 2021, according to new data Friday that puts a grim exclamation point on President Biden’s stewardship of the boundary.
The 1,659,206 arrests recorded over the last 12 months tops fiscal year 2000, the previous record holder, by about 15,000.
Of those the Border Patrol arrested, nearly 500,000 were either released outright or turned over to other federal agencies within the U.S. without an immediate clear pathway toward deportation, signaling most of those were likely released into the country.
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 a slight improvement on July and August, when more than 200,000 encounters were recorded each month.
Almost all of the chaos has happened in the eight months since President Biden has held the reins, with 83% of the Border Patrol’s yearly arrests coming during that time.
“Month after month since President Biden took office, the situation at our southern border has only continued to deteriorate,” said Rep. Kevin McCarthy, Republicans’ leader in the House.
Mr. Biden has yet to visit the border, though he said at a town hall this week that he figures he’s overdue. He blamed his tardiness on the slew of crises and disasters he’s dealing with.
He has assigned Vice President Kamala Harris to try to stem the flow of people leaving their homes in Central America to head north, saying the problem is conditions pushing them to leave.
Security experts say the bigger explanation is Mr. Biden’s changes to policy here at home, which have relaxed enforcement and given migrants hope that they might be able to gain a foothold here. In many cases they’re correct.
During the last full month under President 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 gone worldwide. More than 36% of those encountered in September — a record number — were from outside Mexico or the key Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
That means even if Ms. Harris’s 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 put in place after the 2019 border surge. But it has kept one key policy, the Title 42 authority that has allowed immediate expulsion of many illegal immigrants because of the coronavirus pandemic.
A majority of migrants encountered over the last year have been expelled.
Among the brighter spots in September was a decline in the number of illegal immigrant juveniles traveling without parents, which have been among the most troubling cases. Fewer than 15,000 were apprehended in the month, down from highs closer to 19,000 during several months earlier this year.
Still, fiscal year 2021, which ended Sept. 30, was by far the worst year on record for the unaccompanied juveniles, with nearly 147,000 nabbed over the last 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 new records, with fentanyl in particular more than doubling from 2020, which had been the previous record.
Agents say the more drugs seized, the more that are getting through.
September, in addition to the high number of illegal crossings, also saw an unprecedented situation in Texas, where some 15,000 Haitians crossed the Rio Grande and established a beachhead on the U.S. side. Homeland Security scrambled to process them, releasing the vast majority of them deeper into the U.S.
The department also faces allegations 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.
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