What a difference a year makes on the border.
In August 2020, the Trump administration managed something stunning. Border Patrol agents caught more than 47,000 illegal immigrants and immediately released just 10 of them into the interior.
This August, under President Biden, the Border Patrol made more than 195,000 arrests and released 43,941 people — an increase of more than 430,000%.
Security experts say that’s the difference between a secure border and an unprecedented migrant surge.
“If you tell the migrant they’re not going to be released, they’re not going to come. If a migrant knows they will not be released into the United States awaiting their immigration process, they will not come,” said Mark Morgan, who served as acting head of Customs and Border Protection in the Trump administration.
Last week marked the end of the fiscal year. Although final statistics haven’t been released, 2021 is flirting with the all-time record for border arrests, border deaths and drugs seized.
Things were running normally at the start of the fiscal year in October 2020 but went south quickly in the new year, just as the Biden administration took office.
The Washington Times compared two months under President Trump — one pre-pandemic and the other in the middle of things — to a month under Mr. Biden, August, for which the most recent data is available, to see what happened to those caught jumping the border.
What stood out most was what border experts call the consequence delivery system. When people were detained or ousted, relatively few were coming to the U.S. When people were caught and released, more made an attempt.
• In January 2020, before the onset of the pandemic, Border Patrol agents made 29,204 arrests. Of those, 86% were returned, put into speedy deportation or subjected to one of the Trump team’s administrative fixes to block bogus asylum claims, such as the “Remain in Mexico” policy or the cooperative agreements struck with Central American nations.
About 12% were turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement with a “Notice to Appear” for an eventual immigration court date. Just 75 migrants, less than 0.5%, were caught and released at the border.
• In August 2020, during the pandemic, agents made 47,282 arrests. Of those, more than 90% were immediately expelled under what is known as Title 42, an emergency health order shutting the border to unauthorized migration.
Another 6.6% of those arrested were put into a speedy deportation or removal process. Just 10 people, effectively a rate of 0%, were caught and released at the border.
• In August 2021, under Mr. Biden, agents made 195,558 apprehensions — more than 2½ times the number of the other two months combined.
About 47% were expelled under Title 42 powers, and about 7% were put into the speedy deportation process.
Still, 23% were caught and released at the border and 15% more were caught, turned over to ICE and given notices of court dates.
Most of those were held about 25 days then released, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.
The Biden administration insists the issue isn’t what’s happening in the U.S. but rather what’s happening elsewhere. The problem and the solution lie in the “push” factors, helping build up living conditions in other countries to discourage people from leaving, the White House says.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said last week that he is counting on an easing of the pandemic to help.
“That would mean a regaining of footing, regionally, and therefore, hopefully a diminution in the numbers that are seeking to migrate irregularly because the level of desperation would not compel them to take that journey,” the secretary told a conference hosted by the Migration Policy Institute.
For now, though, the administration is holding firm on Title 42, defying the fervent pleas of the Democratic Party’s political base, which has labeled the policy cruel and racist.
Mr. Mayorkas said 20% of migrants arriving are ill. Given the numbers — 7,500 caught on a given day — keeping them in Border Patrol facilities would lead to the spread of COVID-19, he said.
Mr. Morgan and others who studied immigration patterns in the Trump years say the border situation deteriorated this year not because of “push” factors. COVID-19 was prevalent last year, and crime hasn’t worsened in the key sending places of Mexico and Central America.
A series of court rulings limited the length of time ICE could detain illegal immigrant families with children. Migrants realized they would be caught and released if they showed up with a child and asked for protection.
Most asylum claims are denied, but only after lengthy court proceedings that give migrants a chance to live, work and embed in communities.
Appeals to Congress to fix the system were futile, so the Trump administration took steps on its own.
The Remain in Mexico policy, officially known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, pushed asylum claimants back across the border to wait for their court dates.
The U.S. also struck agreements with Central American countries to take back people who crossed their territory and then made asylum claims in the U.S. Those migrants should have claimed asylum in one of the other countries along the way, officials said.
The numbers were never huge, but the signal was, Mr. Morgan said.
“That was the whole thing. It was supposed to have a deterrent effect on people who came here and filed a fraudulent asylum claim,” he said. “It stopped the flow. It was incredible. It worked.”
The Washington Times reached out to immigrant rights advocates for this article, but none commented on the Biden-Trump comparison.
They have in the past, however, argued that the network of policies of the last administration sent migrants back to difficult and sometimes unsafe conditions. They have called on the Biden team to unravel the Trump policies.
A federal judge ruled that Mr. Mayorkas’ attempt to revoke MPP broke procedural law. The Homeland Security Department announced last week that it would issue a new memo to end the policy “in the coming weeks.”
• Stephen Dinan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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