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Annual border arrests hit record high despite trending down in recent months

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(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. Border Patrol arrested migrants more times in the past year than in any other fiscal year in recorded history, according to Customs and Border Protection data released Friday.

Authorities encountered unauthorized migrants along the southwest border more than 1.73 million times in budget year 2021, according to the data. Of those, about 1.66 million arrests were made by Border Patrol.

The prior record was set in 2000 at about 1.64 million, according to Border Patrol data.

However, migration experts caution that the data has become complicated to track over several decades.

The estimated number of migrants who evaded Border Patrol custody in 2000 was pegged at more than 2.1 million by the Department of Homeland Security. That number declined by about 92% between 2000 and 2018 as Border Patrol funding increased. For 2021, reports analyzed by the Migration Policy Institute estimate the number of successful unlawful entries to be about 540,000.

In recent months, more than a quarter of encounters involved migrants who had previously tried to cross at least once before in the past year. That’s compared to a re-encounter rate of 14% between budget years 2014 and 2019.

Despite the surge of Haitian migrants seen in Del Rio, Texas, last month, overall enforcement actions declined for the second month in a row from 209,840 in August to about 192,000 in September. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has pointed to the declining numbers as evidence the administration’s migration strategy is working.

“Tragically, former President Trump slashed our international assistance to Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, slashed the resources that we were contributing to address the root causes of irregular migration,” Mayorkas said in August as anticipated seasonal migration declines failed to bear out over summer. “Another reason is the end of the cruel policies of the past administration and the restoration of the rule of laws of this country that Congress has passed, including our asylum laws that provide humanitarian relief.”

Immigrant advocates, and some immigration officials, have pointed to the rapid expulsion protocols carried out under Title 42 of the U.S. health code by both the Trump and Biden administrations as the reason behind the elevated rate of repeat offenders attempting to cross illegally.

Biden administration officials have also blamed the Trump administration’s hardline measures at the border, saying it resulted in pent up demand for humanitarian relief. Critics of the administration consider the record-high number of overall encounters to be the product of Biden’s moves to roll back some of Trump’s aggressive policies.

Asked at a CNN town hall event if he planned to go to the border himself, President Joe Biden said, “I guess I should,” but did not provide certainty.

“I’ve been there before and I haven’t — I mean, I know it well,” Biden said. “I guess I should go down. But the whole point of it is, I haven’t had a whole hell of a lot of time to get down.”

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