U.S. immigration officials apprehended nearly 70,000 illegal aliens at the southern border last month—the highest monthly total for October in 15 years—despite a number of COVID-19 travel and border restrictions remaining in place.
The surge is of significant concern to immigration authorities. October border apprehensions increased by roughly 12,000 from September and have steadily climbed every month since April. Since April, border apprehensions have soared by more than 300 percent.
It remains unclear why the border is experiencing swells when a number of border restrictions remain in place including Title 42, a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) initiative that allows for the immediate removal of illegal aliens, and travel restrictions on Mexican nationals.
Nonetheless, there are a few factors that are worth examining that may help explain the unexpected flows at the southern border.
1) Anticipating President-elect Joe Biden
With Joe Biden defeating Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election, immigration policy is expected to change dramatically. President-elect Joe Biden has made clear that his administration will prioritize and protect illegal aliens by offering them a pathway to citizenship, halting deportations for at least 100 days, and stopping construction of the southern border wall.
It is very likely that illegal aliens are responding to these campaign promises and are attempting to enter the country in hopes to be the first in line to take advantage of these opportunities. In fact, thousands of illegal aliens just a few miles south of the U.S. border celebrated his win, further proving their ambitions.
2) Economic turmoil in Latin America
COVID-19 has decimated economies around the world—but many countries in Latin America have been hit particularly hard as they were mostly impoverished to begin with.
Many migrants are likely traveling to the U.S. border in an effort to seek better employment and wage opportunities. In fact, within the past few years, seeking better economic situations has become the primary reason for illegal aliens and asylum seekers to migrate to the U.S.
With a number of states granting coronavirus financial relief, affordable (and in some cases free) coronavirus healthcare, and other financial incentivizes, migrants are wanting to take advantage of these benefits and are undeterred by any border restrictions put in place by the U.S. government.
3) Title 42
What was originally thought of as an effective policy to quickly remove apprehended illegal aliens from the southern border may actually be creating an unintentional border crisis.
Title 42 was implemented to reduce the number of illegal aliens in detention facilities in order to mitigate COVID-19 from spreading in these facilities. The quick release of illegal aliens was also thought to be a way to minimize the exposure of immigration authorities to those who may be carrying the disease.
However, the quick release and limited detention is enabling illegal aliens to return more often to the border. Recent data indicate that at least one-third of those taken into custody each month are repeat offenders.
While these and other factors may explain the driving forces behind the recent surges in border apprehensions, it is imperative that Congress and the Biden administration address these items. Without acknowledging these pull forces, the flows of migrants will only continue to increase and bring the country back to the border crisis seen in 2019, as we are struggling to control a pandemic and its economic fallout.