U.S.-Mexico border apprehensions down as Biden OKs new restrictions on asylum seekers

A Border Patrol vehicle sits near border walls separating Tijuana, Mexico, from the United States, Tuesday, in San Diego.

A Border Patrol vehicle sits near border walls separating Tijuana, Mexico, from the United States, Tuesday, in San Diego. (Gregory Bull, Associated Press)

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WASHINGTON — As President Joe Biden pushes to limit the number of asylum seekers entering the United States, the latest U.S. Customs and Border Protection border apprehension figures are down from last year's highs.

The numbers, a barometer of illegal immigration into the United States, fell below 2023 and 2022 levels for April — the latest data available — and are on par with 2021 figures. Apprehension figures skyrocketed in December, fueling calls by many lawmakers, particularly Republicans, for stricter border security measures. The pressure continues.

In response, Biden on Tuesday signed an executive order putting new restrictions on the numbers of allowable asylum requests at the U.S.-Mexico border, aiming to get control of the numbers of immigrants entering the country. Encounters at the U.S.-Mexico border dipped in the first quarter of the year, he said. "However, the factors that are driving the unprecedented movement of people in our hemisphere remain, and there is still a substantial and elevated level of migration that continues to pose significant operational challenges," he went on, according to his formal announcement.

Indeed, Tuesday's announcement hardly ends the debate. U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who has pushed hard for stricter action at the border, blasted the president. "Joe Biden is NOT securing the border. He is funneling illegal immigrants to certain ports to be paroled into America anyway. His order incentivizes child trafficking, allows millions of illegals to stay in America and cements unacceptable levels of illegal immigration," Lee posted on social media in response.

Here's a look at the most recent border encounter figures, released by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office in mid-May:

  • Encounters for April — representing the number of undocumented immigrants apprehended, deemed inadmissible or processed for expulsion — totaled 179,725, down from 301,980 last December.
  • The April 2024 figure is lower than the comparable figures for April 2023 (211,992), and April 2022 (235,785). It's on par with the April 2021 total (178,795).
  • Encounters for the first seven months of fiscal year 2024, through April, are still above the comparable figure for fiscal year 2023, 1.52 million versus 1.44 million.

Border security is a top concern among Americans and a key issue heading into elections this year. It's a top worry for many of the GOP contenders for office in Utah, who have decried the border situation and the entry of undocumented immigrants into the country. In response to the surge in apprehensions starting late last year, several Utah politicos and others traveled to the border to get a first-hand look at the situation and heightened their calls for action.

In releasing the April numbers, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office said it had "redoubled" border-security efforts, coordinating with partners around the hemisphere and globe.

"As a result of this increased enforcement, southwest border encounters have not increased, bucking previous trends," the office said in a statement. "We are still experiencing challenges along the borders and the nation's immigration system is not appropriately resourced to handle them, so we continue to call on Congress to take action that would provide our personnel with additional resources and tools."

In a blog post on May 31, the Washington Office on Latin America, a Washington, D.C.-based human rights advocacy group, noted a surge in detentions in Mexico dating to last November of migrants from other countries. Detentions in Mexico went from 52,201 last October to 97,969 in November and hovered around 120,000 a month from January and April.

"It is unclear how long Mexico can keep this up, or how long migrants stranded in the country will tolerate it. But for now, it has brought a notable reduction in the number of people reaching the U.S.-Mexico border," the human rights group said.

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Tim Vandenack covers immigration, multicultural issues and Northern Utah for KSL.com. He worked several years for the Standard-Examiner in Ogden and has lived and reported in Mexico, Chile and along the U.S.-Mexico border.


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