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Immigration policies under the Trump and Biden administrations have been the same for adults crossing the border alone.
Experts say Brnovich cherry-picked the data and failed to take into account how the pandemic has affected migration.
In April 2020, lockdowns and the uncertainty of COVID-19 restricted people’s movements. By April 2022, more was known about the virus and how to mitigate its spread, and lockdown restrictions had largely been lifted.
A group of state attorneys general sued the Biden administration over its plans to rescind a public health policy intended to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 by expelling immigrants arriving illegally at the southwest border.
A federal judge on May 20 blocked the Biden administration from ending the policy, known as Title 42.
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who is running for U.S. Senate and was among those who sued the administration, tweeted a comparison of the number of adult immigrants traveling alone and encountered by border authorities in April 2020 and April 2022.
In April 2020, it was 15,609. In April 2022, it grew to 166,814.
"Border policies matter," wrote Brnovich, who is seeking to win Arizona’s Republican primary Aug. 2.
Border policies matter.— Mark Brnovich (@brnoforaz) May 24, 2022
The number of single adult illegal border-crossers?
April 2022 (Biden) - 166,814
April 2020 (Trump) - 15,609
This comparison has several issues.
Brnovich’s tweet insinuated that the change in the number of encounters is a result of different policies under President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump. Although some border policies have changed from one administration to another, those affecting adults crossing the border alone, which Customs and Border Protection classifies as "single adults," have not.
Under the pandemic policy, immigrants are quickly expelled and don’t face penalties for crossing the border without authorization. This has led to more immigrants attempting to cross the border multiple times and has contributed to an increase in the monthly numbers of encounters, experts said.
Brnovich’s claim also doesn’t take into account the dynamics of the pandemic in early 2020, when lockdowns and restrictions were at their peak, and in 2022, when many of those measures had ended.
In fiscal year 2020, the number of encounters at the border was the lowest in April 2020; encounters generally have climbed every month after.
Brnovich’s tweet singles out CBP data from April 2020, right at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when most of the U.S. and the world was under lockdown.
Policies limiting the movement of people both within the U.S. and across countries led to a decrease in migration worldwide. Vaccines had not yet been created, and personal protective equipment, like face masks, were scarce. Governments and health officials dissuaded many people from leaving their homes as they learned more about the virus and how it spread.
Two years later, the world has changed. Vaccines are more widely accessible, and most lockdown restrictions have been lifted. Some countries are dealing with battered economies as a result of the pandemic.
Although comparing similar months of immigration data is usually advisable, given the seasonal nature of migration, experts said comparisons of April 2020 and April 2022 are not sound.
"Selecting only two months from only two years as Mr. Brnovich did qualifies as an extremely selective and decontextualized comparison, or more colloquially, ‘cherry-picking,’" said Austin Kocher, a research assistant professor at Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. "This does not mean that he is necessarily wrong in his conclusion, only that his choice of data does not necessarily add up to his policy conclusion."
When an immigrant at the southwest border attempts to enter the country illegally, officials have two options — and these options have been the same under both Trump and Biden.
One option: enforce immigration law and either turn away immigrants or allow them into the U.S. to seek relief, such as asylum.
Another option: quickly expel immigrants to Mexico or their countries of origin, based on the pandemic policy to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
When people are apprehended under immigration law, they can face legal consequences such as fines, misdemeanor charges or barred access to future asylum. People who are determined to have repeatedly attempted crossing can also be subject to felony charges.
But people who are expelled under the pandemic policy do not face any immigration penalties. As a result, there’s been an increase in the number of encounters recorded by CBP and in the percentage of people trying to cross the border more than once.
Under Biden, there have been some changes in the implementation of border policies for unaccompanied children and families. But for adults traveling alone — the group that Brnovich highlighted — policies have remained the same. Syracuse University's Kocher said a shift in the tone around immigration from the Biden administration could lead to more immigrants trying to cross the border at the same time that COVID-19 restrictions have also relaxed.
But experts also emphasize that U.S. policies alone don’t influence decisions to migrate.
"Migration has always been multicausal: that is, people migrate because of a wide range of intersecting drivers — poverty, criminal and political violence, climate change," said Maria Cristina Garcia, a professor of American Studies at Cornell University.
Many of these factors have been aggravated by the pandemic.
Brnovich said increased encounters at the southwest border in April 2022 compared with April 2020 are attributable to changes in border policy.
Brnovich’s data tracks with CBP’s numbers. But the cherry-picked numbers don’t tell the whole story.
In April 2020, lockdowns and the uncertainty of COVID-19 restricted people’s movements. By April 2022, testing and vaccines were more accessible, and lockdown restrictions were largely lifted.
Border encounters have generally increased monthly after April 2020. However, immigration policies for adults traveling alone have been the same under the Trump and Biden administrations.
Brnovich’s statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.
Mark Brnovich Tweet, May 23, 2022
Email exchange, Joanna Duka, Mark Brnovich campaign spokesperson, May 25, 2022
Email exchange, Douglas Massey, professor of sociology at Princeton University, May 24, 2022
Email exchange, Austin Kocher, assistant research professor, Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, May 25, 2022
Email exchange, Maria Cristina Garcia, professor of American studies at Cornell University, May 25, 2022
Email exchange, Ingrid Eagly, professor of law at University of California Los Angeles, May 25, 2022
Email exchange, John Gramlich, senior writer and editor at Pew Research Center, May 26, 2022
Press release, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, along with LA & MO, Sue Biden for Rescinding Title 42, April 4, 2022
Al Jazeera, Coronavirus: Travel restrictions, border shutdowns by country, June 3, 2020
Congressional Research Service, U.S. Border Patrol Encounters at the Southwest Border: Titles 8 & 42, May 20, 2022
Georgetown Law, Immigration Law (U.S.) Research Guide, accessed May 25, 2022
U.S. Customs and Border Protection, CBP Enforcement Statistics Fiscal Year 2022, accessed May 25, 2022
U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Southwest Land Border Encounters, accessed ay 26, 2022
AP, Court ruling extends uneven treatment for asylum-seekers, May 23, 2022
PolitiFact, Central America and the root causes of migration to the US, June 7, 2021
Pew Research Center, Key facts about Title 42, the pandemic policy that has reshaped immigration enforcement at U.S.-Mexico border, April 27, 2022
Pew Research Center, Migrant encounters at U.S.-Mexico border are at a 21-year high, Aug. 13, 2021
United Nations, Growth of international migration slowed by 27%, or 2 million migrants, due to COVID-19, says UN, accessed May 31, 2022
Migration Policy Institute, Controversial U.S. Title 42 Expulsions Policy Is Coming to an End, Bringing New Border Challenges, March 31, 2022
Kaiser Family Foundation, Title 42 and its impact on migrant families, May 26, 2022
National Immigration Forum, Explainer: Title 42 and what comes next at the border, April 11, 2022
CNN, Biden administration ends Trump-era border policy for unaccompanied migrant children, March 12, 2022
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