The last time arrests at the U.S.-Mexican border were this high, Ronald Reagan was president, mad cow disease was keeping people from buying beef, and Oprah Winfrey had just debuted nationally. It was 1986 and no one was paying much attention to the border at the time.
Flash forward 35 years and a lot has changed at the border. In fact, there isn’t much of a “border” at all. If you define a border as “the line, limit, or delimiting geographic feature that separates one country, state, province, etc., from another,” you’d be hardpressed to point out such a feature on a map. It doesn’t exist. And there are consequences to that.
U.S. authorities detained more than 1.7 million migrants along the Mexico border during the 2021 fiscal year that ended in September, and arrests by the Border Patrol soared to the highest levels since 1986, according to unpublished U.S. Customs and Border Protection data obtained by The Washington Post.
Illegal crossings began rising last year but skyrocketed in the months after President Biden took office. As CBP arrests increased this past spring, Biden described the rise as consistent with historic seasonal norms. But the busiest months came during the sweltering heat of July and August, when more than 200,000 migrants were taken into custody.
Biden obviously believes that suppressing the news or downplaying the significance of the crisis is better for him than acknowledging the severity of the situation. And he’s counting on his friends in the media to run interference for him with the American public by finding other newsworthy topics to report on.
In the lead-up to his inauguration last January, Biden got on his moral high horse and railed against Trump’s “inhumane” immigration policies. He promised a swift end to the “Remain in Mexico” policy, reversed key asylum restrictions, and announced a pause on most deportations.
But Biden also said he wanted to move slowly on immigration policy. This after unilaterally ending some very effective tools the government was using to keep the border from exploding. “The last thing we need is to say we’re going to stop immediately, the access to asylum, the way it’s being run now, and then end up with 2 million people on our border,” Biden said.
Biden officials initially blamed the previous administration’s policies for the increase in border crossings and said migration pressures intensified as a result of the pandemic’s economic fallout. Many migrants have told reporters they opted to make the risky journey north, at great cost and considerable danger, with the belief that Biden would allow them to stay. A tight U.S. labor market became another pull.
Earlier this year, Biden directed Vice President Harris to address the “root causes” of migration from Central America’s Northern Triangle nations — Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. But the strategy has had little to no measurable effect, and Harris has distanced herself from the border and immigration issues generally.
There aren’t quite 2 million people on the border — yet. But the numbers are only getting worse. And once the pandemic restriction known as Title 42 is lifted, the situation is likely to become even more unmanageable.
Title 42 is a little-known public health law that allows the government to deport any adult if they’re here illegally. In practice, it has mostly applied to adult males. Family groups and unaccompanied minors are being allowed in.
Of the 1.7 million detained during the 2021 fiscal year, 61 percent were expelled under Title 42, according to the Post. But most of them end up coming back again and again hoping that Biden will change his mind and allow them to stay. Meanwhile, drug mules, human traffickers, and other organized gangs cross the border with impunity and nary a sign that the Biden administration will stop it.