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By Lauren White March 3, 2022

Border encounters up partially because of COVID-19 expulsions

If Your Time is short

  • U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley tweeted that the Biden Administration needs to be more serious about border control as the United States has recorded an increase in encounters at its southern border. 
  • The numbers Grassley states are true, as U.S. Customs and Border Protection has encountered 670,000 people along the border since Oct. 1. 
  • We know that there has been an increase in apprehensions at the border, so policy is being enforced, but we are unable to see what percentage of immigrants seeking illegal entry are apprehended because the exact number of people who cross the border and never come in contact with a CBP agent is unknown. 

U.S. immigrations officials are reporting an increase in immigration encounters across the country’s southern border with Mexico, leading Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to say the Biden Administration needs to enforce immigration laws. 

Grassley tweeted on Feb. 5:

"The Biden Border Crisis is still here During the first 3 months of FY2022 Customs& Border Protection recorded 518k encounters w illegal immigrants at S border That’s up 137% from same point in FY2021. Biden Admin ought 2get serious about enforcing our immigration laws"

During a press call with The Daily Iowan and other Iowa reporters Feb. 9, Grassley said he wants to vote on a bill that allocates funds for finishing the border wall, something the Democrat-majority Senate has no plans of introducing.

"We have already, over a period of decades, passed plenty of laws, saying it’s illegal to come into this country without our permission," Grassley said. 

Grassley said it’s up to the executive branch to enforce immigration laws and that, while not solely Biden’s fault, the increase in encounters was the highest of Biden’s 13-month-old administration. 

Grassley’s numbers were correct, and they have continued to grow since he made the tweet. Through January, there have been 672,838 encounters. The number was 296,450 during those four months the previous fiscal year and the increase from then dropped, statistically, to 127% for the first four months. Federal fiscal years start Oct. 1, so the previous fiscal year’s numbers include three and a half months of the Trump administration.

But a Feb. 18, 2022, Customs and Border Patrol update on the January 2022 numbers said the total number of encounters overstates the number of unique individuals trying to cross the border. 

A large number of expulsions during the coronavirus pandemic have contributed to a higher number of migrants making multiple border crossing attempts, the update stated. For example, the report stated, one of every four of the 153,941 encounters in January was with someone repeating an attempt to migrate into the United States. The five-year repeat average was one of every seven from fiscal 2014 to fiscal 2019, the report said.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, expulsions have increased at the border because Customs and Border Protection started requiring non-U.S. citizens looking to enter the country to show proof of vaccination. The restriction applied to people with essential and non-essential reasons. 

Customs and Border Protection defines an encounter as anyone who is apprehended or expelled under the agency’s Title 8 or Title 42 provisions. Title 8 apprehensions refer to people who seek legal entry, due to refugee status or other personal reasons, but cannot be considered admissible by lack of proper paperwork or a breach in quota. Title 42 expulsions refer to individuals who try to enter the U.S. illegally and are expelled to the country of their last transit or their home country. 

We won’t know the official deportation numbers for fiscal 2022 for a while because the most recently available numbers are from 2020

According to Pew Research Center, the number of border crossings in fiscal 2021 was the highest in 21 years. Pew reported that the more-than 200,000 crossings in July 2021 was the highest monthly total in two decades. This increase came after COVID-19 forced the southern borders to close and slow immigration down. 

The previous monthly record was 220,063 in March 2000. The 2000 fiscal year total for encounters was 1,643,679. 

Biden issued an executive order on Jan. 20, 2021, that overturned former president Donald Trump’s immigration policies. Grassley said his order meant that Biden was offering an open border policy. The executive order says differently. 

When he issued his executive order, Biden said immigrants strengthen America’s communities and economy. Enforcing immigration policy, the executive order said, is complex and requires setting priorities to best serve the national interest. 

"The policy of my Administration is to protect national and border security, address the humanitarian challenges at the southern border, and ensure public health and safety.  We must also adhere to due process of law as we safeguard the dignity and well-being of all families and communities," the executive order said. 

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 restructured American immigration policy. With this law, each of the subsequent 13 presidents, from Eisenhower to Biden, has enacted executive action for immigration policy. 

Immigration numbers skyrocketed in 1970, during the Nixon Administration, after quota numbers were increased through the Immigration and Nationality Act. Encounters rose from 9.6 million to 14 million in 10 years. The previous decade saw a decrease of about 100,000. 

Our ruling

Grassley called the Biden administration out for not being strict enough on immigration policy. He based his criticism on encounters that have risen 137% from fiscal 2021 to fiscal 2022. 

Grassley did not mention how multiple repeated attempts by individuals blamed on COVID restrictions have caused a rise in numbers. This provides context. 

But, Customs and Border Protection numbers line up with what Grassley said. We rate the statement to be Mostly True.

Our Sources

Tweet from Sen. Chuck Grassley on Feb. 5, 2022

Press Call with Sen. Chuck Grassley on Feb. 9, 2022

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, "Southwest Land Border Encounters."

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Press Release, "CBP Releases January 2022 Monthly Operational Update," Feb. 18, 2022

Pew Research Center, "Migrant encounters at U.S.-Mexico border are at a 21-year high", Aug. 13, 2021

The New York Times, "As world comes to a halt, so does migration", May 4, 2020

United States Border Patrol, "Total illegal alien apprehensions by month," FY 2000

The White House, "Executive Order on the Revision of Civil Immigration Enforcement Policies and Priorities," Jan. 20, 2021

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, "Immigration and Nationality Act," 1952

Migration Policy Institute (MPI) tabulation of data from U.S. Census Bureau, "U.S. Immigrant Population and Share over Time, 1850-Present

Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2020

Border encounters up partially because of COVID-19 expulsions

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