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The number of “got aways,” people who cross the border without being stopped, is officially published only once a year and represents data from two fiscal years back.
“Got away” figures rely on subjective observations from thousands of Border Patrol agents across the border.
Nikki Haley criticized President Joe Biden’s administration using an unofficial number of “got aways” under his administration that relies on unverified information leaked by immigration officials.
Nikki Haley, who has said she is considering running for president in 2024, has repeatedly criticized President Joe Biden’s foreign and domestic policies, including on immigration and border security.
Haley, a former South Carolina governor who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the Trump administration, on Dec. 5 tweeted several things that she said Biden has not done well, among them a "botched Afghanistan withdrawal" and "4M+ border crossings & 1M gotaways."
You're getting things done, alright.— Nikki Haley (@NikkiHaley) December 5, 2022
None of them good:
❌ $5T spending spree
❌Botched Afghanistan withdrawal
❌ 4M+ border crossings & 1M gotaways
❌ 40-year-high inflation
❌ Weak on China
❌ Gas $1 higher than when you took office https://t.co/fCnJNU6LnV
Stand for America, a nonprofit Haley founded, made a similar point about the border in a Dec. 1 tweet: "Another record broken by the Biden administration: More gotaways in one month than ever before. That makes 1 million since Biden took office. Who knows how many more weren't spotted?"
Republicans often cite historically high encounters at the southern border in their criticism of Biden’s policies and also point to the number of "got aways."
The Republican National Committee on its website tracks the monthly number of "got aways" under the Biden administration — 1 million as of November.
The Department of Homeland Security defines "got aways" as people who got into the country illegally after evading Border Patrol agents or because authorities did not pursue them (despite knowing of them).
It’s difficult for PolitiFact to independently verify whether there have been 1 million "got aways" during the Biden administration. The RNC’s estimate is based on news reports citing unnamed immigration officials. Neither DHS or Customs and Border Protection release official monthly "got away" numbers.
CBP provides monthly updates on encounters at the southwest border — this data tracks people who were let into the country and people turned away. But the number of "got aways" is officially reported by DHS only in the annual Border Security Metrics Report.
These yearly reports take a long time to produce. The latest report, covering fiscal year 2020 (October 2019 through September 2020), published in April. That means the latest report available does not include Biden administration data.
DHS estimates the number of "got aways" based on Border Patrol agents’ observations, what they hear from other immigrants who were apprehended, footprints, cameras and sensors.
DHS estimated there were about 137,000 "got aways" in fiscal year 2020. In April, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told lawmakers that in fiscal year 2021 there were about 389,000 "got aways."
DHS’ latest report acknowledged that the subjective way the data is gathered can be problematic. It said it’s working to enact a standard to ensure Border Patrol agents’ reporting is as accurate as possible.
Experts also said that "got aways" data can be unreliable.
"By definition, these are people that were not apprehended so we don't necessarily know exactly how many we're talking about," said Theresa Cardinal Brown, managing director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
Brown noted that some parts of the border are in urban areas where it might be easier to detect an immigrant trying to cross the border, but that’s more difficult to do in rural desert areas. This complicates standardization.
DHS also said there are immigrants who cross the border without being counted in the "got away" estimates. The department calls these "unobserved got aways" and makes estimates using statistical modeling. For fiscal year 2020, DHS estimated there were 69,000 "unobserved got aways." These estimates also have limitations, partly because they rely on survey data and assumptions about immigrants' behavior at the border.
DHS said this gap between known and unknown "got aways" has increasingly narrowed as the government has invested millions of dollars in cameras, sensors and drones at the border.
Brown, and experts from other groups that study immigration, have called on DHS to be more transparent in its reporting and publish "got away" figures regularly.
"We don't have public information. That puts us at a disadvantage when analyzing the validity of these claims," said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director at the American Immigration Council, an immigrants' rights advocacy group.
Because the number of "got aways" is difficult to pin down and estimates are not reported as often as other border metrics, there is speculation about it.
But it’s important to "look at the totality of the picture" to understand border issues, Brown said. "And no single measurement is going to give you the whole picture."
The Hill, Haley on possible 2024 White House bid: ‘I’ve never lost’, Nov. 20, 2022
AP News, Haley signals 2024 openness despite pledge to back Trump, Nov. 29, 2022
Nikki Haley, Tweet, Dec. 5, 2022
Phone interview, Theresa Cardinal Brown, managing director, Immigration and Cross-Border Policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, Dec. 7, 2022
Phone interview, Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director at American Immigration Council, Dec. 7, 2022
Phone interview, Josiah Heyman, director of the Center for Inter-American and Border Studies at University of Texas at El Paso, Dec. 7, 2022
Email exchange, Michelle Mittelstadt, director of communications at Migration Policy Institute, Dec. 7, 2022
Email exchange, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Dec. 7, 2022
U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Southwest Land Border Encounters, accessed Dec. 8, 2022
U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Department of Homeland Security Border Security Metrics Report, Aug. 5, 2020
The Republican National Committee, 1 MILLION GOTAWAYS, Nov. 6, 2022
Stand for America, Tweet, Dec. 1, 2022
Fox News, Border officials count 599,000 'gotaway' migrants in Fiscal Year 2022: source, Oct. 2, 2022
New York Post, Over 500,000 immigrant ‘gotaways’ at US border may be roaming the country: report, July 25, 2022
CNN, Nearly 6,000 undocumented immigrants apprehended daily at US-Mexico border in April, May 3, 2021
U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Department of Homeland Security Border Security Metrics Report: 2021, April 27, 2022
C-SPAN, Department of Homeland Security Oversight Hearing, April 28, 2022
Congress.gov, Border Security (Executive Session); Congressional Record Vol. 168, No. 73, May 3, 2022