The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Border arrests rose slightly in April, but fewer minors crossing without parents eases pressure on Biden administration

Migrants from Central America head north after crossing the Rio Grande into the United States last week.
Migrants from Central America head north after crossing the Rio Grande into the United States last week. (Adrees Latif/Reuters)

Immigration arrests and detentions along the U.S.-Mexico border rose slightly in April to 178,622, the highest one-month total in two decades, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data published Tuesday, but a decline in the number of teens and children arriving without parents eased pressure on the Biden administration.

April was the first month since President Biden took office that the total number of illegal border crossings did not register a major month-over-month increase, rising just 3 percent. CBP officials have projected higher numbers of teens and children as well as migrant families in the coming months, but both groups declined modestly in April, and the only demographic group arriving in greater numbers was single adult migrants, CBP data show.

U.S. officials say crossings have leveled off in part as a result of tighter enforcement by Mexican authorities, who have deployed 10,000 soldiers and police officers along the country’s southern border with Guatemala.

“CBP continues to see a large influx of illegal migration along the Southwest Border,” CBP interim commissioner Troy Miller said in a statement.

“Day after day, CBP rescues migrants abandoned in harsh terrain, left for dead with no food or water,” Miller added. “CBP is committed to enhancing the security of the U.S. border and helping save the lives of vulnerable migrants.”

The number of unaccompanied minors who were taken into CBP custody last month declined 9 percent, the agency’s latest statistics show.

The Biden administration made major progress in April alleviating crisis-level overcrowding at Border Patrol facilities packed with teens and children, opening more than a dozen emergency shelters at convention centers, military bases and other temporary sites overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services.

At CBP facilities, which are ill-suited to care for minors, the number of teens and children in custody has dropped from more than 5,700 to fewer than 500 on Tuesday, a result of fewer crossings but mostly the addition of the emergency shelter sites.

HHS has more than 20,000 minors in its care, but Biden officials say they have reduced the amount of time it takes for them to screen adult sponsors, allowing them to release children faster.

“We are building legal pathways so individuals and parents do not feel compelled to place their children in the hands of the exploiting smuggling organizations,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said last week while showing a group of Democratic lawmakers the CBP tent facility in Donna, Tex., that was packed with teens and children at the beginning of April.

DHS Sec. Mayorkas touts progress processing migrant teens and children

Biden has attributed the soaring number of crossings this spring to seasonal patterns and dismal conditions in Central America, including two damaging hurricanes last fall. Administration officials and many Democrats have rebuffed calls to characterize the record influx as a crisis, despite bringing in the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help.

During his first 100 days in office, Biden reversed several border-control policies implemented by the Trump administration, while curbing interior enforcement by U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement. Deportations last month fell to 2,962, the lowest level on record, according to the latest ICE statistics.

Though the number of single adults arrested by U.S. agents along the border soared to more than 111,000 in April, the highest monthly total in more than a decade, CBP used the Title 42 public health order to quickly return most of them to Mexico.

Many of the adults try again and again, seeking to evade Border Patrol, and CBP has reported that about 40 percent of the adults it arrests are “recidivists” or repeat offenders. Mexican nationals make up the largest share of single adults attempting to enter illegally.

Border officials say more migrants are sneaking past overwhelmed agents

CBP officials say overwhelmed agents have been struggling to intercept adults in more remote areas, leading to more than 1,000 “got-away” incidents reported each day in recent months. Those incidents are recorded when CBP detects an illegal entry but is unable to make an arrest.

In its public statements, the White House has continued to insist that the border is closed, while running advertisements and bulletins in Central America urging would-be migrants to forgo the journey north. But the Biden administration is not using Title 42 to return unaccompanied minors to their home countries, and the most recent data indicate that the majority of families are released into the U.S. interior, not sent to Mexico, which allows them to pursue claims for humanitarian protection.

The number of migrants traveling as part of family groups fell 7.5 percent to 50,016, the April figures show.