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Anna Giaritelli, Homeland Security Reporter


NextImg:Biden administration reports 2 million arrested for illegally crossing US border in fiscal 2023

United States border authorities arrested more than 2 million people who attempted to enter the country unlawfully from Mexico or Canada over the past 12 months, marking the second time ever that that figure has topped the 1986 record of 1.692 million, according to data published Saturday.

The historically high 2.06 million in fiscal 2023, which ended Sept. 30, is another blow to the Biden administration after surpassing 2.2 million in 2022, particularly after the administration's claims for more than 30 months that its changes to border and immigration policies would reduce illegal crossings.

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Of the 2.06 million illegal crossing arrests in 2023, which does not include people who crossed but got away, 624,000 people arrived as part of a family unit; 1.3 million were single adults; and 131,000 were unaccompanied children, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data.

Ninety-nine percent of illegal crossers arrested came across the Mexico border, and the remainder came across the northern border.

In total, 3.2 million non-U.S. citizens attempted to enter the country illegally or through means established by the Biden administration, such as being paroled into the country at ports of entry. Of the 3.2 million, 1.1 million came through ports, and 2.06 million entered illegally around the ports.

House Homeland Security Chairman Mark Green lambasted the final numbers for 2023.

“This fiscal year may have ended, but the historic crisis at our Southwest border sparked by Secretary Mayorkas’ policies rages on. These numbers demonstrate beyond a doubt that Secretary Mayorkas’ refusal to enforce the law and secure our border is jeopardizing our safety and security," Green said in a statement Saturday afternoon. "We also can’t forget about the 1.7 million known gotaways, some of whom may be seeking to cause the same type of devastation we saw in Israel on October 7. Secretary Mayorkas’ policies have failed, but he has only doubled down on them. He must be held accountable.”

Under the Biden administration, the number of arrests in any two given months has been as many people as were arrested in entire years over the past decade. Between 2010 and 2020, arrests in all but one year held between 300,000 and 500,000 per year. In 2019, agents arrested 850,000 in what was considered a crisis year, even by Democrats.

Migration throughout the Western Hemisphere surged as a result of economic instability brought on, in part, by the coronavirus pandemic. Republicans have blamed President Joe Biden's walking back a slew of Trump administration policies as sending a message beyond the borders that communicated it would not deport illegal immigrants.

In the first year and a half of Biden’s tenure, Border Patrol agents nationwide arrested more people who came across the border unlawfully than in President Barack Obama's two terms.

The biggest change over the past year was the reversal of the Title 42 pandemic policy. Since March 2020, immigrants who arrived at the southern border were not allowed to seek asylum at land ports of entry. In response, those desperate for help walked around the port and illegally entered.

When Title 42 ended in May, Border Patrol agents lost the ability to turn away illegal immigrants immediately, and despite its efforts to impose lawful pathways for non-U.S. citizens to enter the country, the Biden administration was unable to decrease illegal crossings.

Republicans have hammered Biden with claims his immigration promises enticed people from around the world to travel to the U.S. Upon taking office, the Biden administration stopped turning away unaccompanied child migrants, attempted to halt deportations for 100 days, and suspended border wall construction.

Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, the policy director at the American Immigration Council, which opposed the Trump administration's immigration policies as too harsh, said last fall that Border Patrol had gotten better through the years at apprehending a greater percentage of people who cross illegally — one reason for the numbers to have increased.

But Reichlin-Melnick also said Biden's rhetoric, a softening of tone from Trump's hard-line talk, was seen as a green light in other countries.

"Perception matters a lot more than policy. When President Biden took office, people perceived that he would be a more generous president, and that led to more people coming to the border, even though he didn't actually do anything that would cause that," Reichlin-Melnick said.

Despite the Biden administration's initiatives to overhaul the immigration system to the extent it can, absent congressional action, it has seen virtually no progress, as evidenced by the rising arrests.

To deal with the surge in numbers, the Biden administration has focused its efforts on improving conditions within federal immigration facilities and quickly releasing people. It has opened numerous tent facilities where thousands of immigrants are detained each day as they are processed and either removed from the country or released with a future immigration court date.

The more than 1 million people released into the interior is more than the populations of Boston, Denver, Las Vegas, Seattle, or Washington, based on 2021 Census Bureau data.

The effects of immigrant releases on bus, airline, and other transportation networks in border cities are what prompted Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) to offer free bus rides to cities that immigrants would otherwise have had to pay to fly to.

More than 50,000 immigrants have voluntarily boarded Abbott's buses to Chicago, New York City, Washington, and three other cities since spring 2022, a small fraction compared to the more than 2 million total immigrants who have been released into the country since January 2021.

In July 2022, House Republicans debuted a plan to regain control of the southern border. The plan pulled from previous initiatives used by the Trump administration and was meant to address the state of the border before conceding to the Democrats' demands to provide solutions for the estimated 11 million people already living in the country illegally.

The proposal touted the need for a physical barrier, infrastructure, and technology on the 2,000-mile southern border. Although the Trump administration funded 800 miles of border wall projects, it completed just more than 450 miles, and many replaced rotted pieces of fence.

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Republicans planned to bolster staffing levels at Customs and Border Protection, the 60,000-person federal agency tasked with inspecting vehicles and apprehending people attempting to enter the U.S. illegally. Asylum-seekers would be required to remain in Mexico for the duration of their court proceedings; families would not be released into the U.S. after being apprehended but detained together through court proceedings; and unaccompanied children would not be automatically admitted.

The House passed the bill in mid-2023, but it has yet to be taken up in the Democratic-controlled Senate.