Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.), in his second term in Congress, is making a name for himself in Washington. One way in which he’s doing so is his trademark vest, worn with a tie even during committee hearings. The other is the questions he asks during those hearings, questions that, of late, have been . . . interesting.
Last week, Higgins pressed Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former personal attorney, on boxes of documents that Cohen said he had gone through before his testimony. Why hadn’t those documents been turned over to investigators? Higgins asked angrily. Well, they had been, Cohen explained, and the boxes were what he got back. But Higgins, interrupting, didn’t seem to hear Cohen’s response — and kept angrily demanding more information about the documents. For some reason, he then revisited the subject later in the hearing.
Then, on Wednesday, he offered comments during a hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee. On Tuesday, Customs and Border Protection released new data on the number of attempted border crossings in February, with the number of apprehensions and “inadmissibles” — people turned away at border checkpoints — climbing to more than 76,000. In January, the total was just under 60,000.
“Let me just put this in context for the American people,” Higgins said about the increase. “Perhaps the most famous invasion in the history of the world — D-Day — 73,000 America troops landed in the D-Day invasion. We have 76,103, according to my numbers, apprehensions on our southern border last month. We have a D-Day every month on our southern border.”
This is a bad analogy, for more reasons than you might think.
First of all, Higgins’s numbers are wrong. There were 76,103 apprehensions and inadmissibles stopped at the border in February. That’s an important distinction. If we use a faulty, generalized analogy of our own, apprehensions are people caught trying to get into the Super Bowl without stopping at a ticket gate. Inadmissibles are people who show up at the gate with an invalid ticket.
There were 66,450 apprehensions, stops that more generally fit the profile of what people think of when they think of illegal border crossings. That’s a lot, compared with recent years. It’s not a lot, compared with where we were before the recession that hit a decade ago.
On average in this fiscal year (beginning in October 2018), there have been 53,608 apprehensions per month. That’s higher than in any year since 2008 — but lower than every year from 1977 to 2008.
That doesn’t make the recent increase unimportant, of course. But to continue Higgins’s bad analogy, in 2000, we were “having a D-Day” every two weeks.
D-Day, you may recall, was an invasion by soldiers. That is not who is arriving at our border these days.
The February spike is visible on the chart below, which shows every month of each calendar year. You’ll notice that apprehensions are cyclical, generally spiking in the summer. This recent spike is out of that pattern.
Notice, too, that the spike last month is about as high as the ones seen in 2014, when the summer months brought a surge of migrants — mostly children traveling alone who were fleeing violence in Central America. This was a national crisis, forcing President Barack Obama to come up with a way to address the surge. In September 2014, there were 61,357 apprehensions on the southwest border, before slipping back down.
We don’t have monthly data separating out unaccompanied minors going back to 2014, but we do have data since October 2015. This data shows what might be hard to pick out on the above graph: The surge is a function of “family units” seeking entry — groups of people who constitute a family. (The term “family units” refers to the total number of people, not the total number of families.)
Over the past three months, half of those apprehended at the border have been members of families.
Soldiers at D-Day generally weren’t accompanied by their wives and children.
Many of those family units (and many of the unaccompanied children and many of the single adults) arrive at the border and promptly turn themselves in to the authorities, something that is very much not what happened on the beaches of Normandy.
Why do they turn themselves in? Because they plan to seek asylum in the United States.
In fiscal year 2018, a fifth of those apprehended or deemed inadmissible sought asylum at the border. Asylum claims have spiked in recent years, driving a legitimate crisis in the system that’s meant to assess those claims. But, again, that differs dramatically from the impression that Higgins wants to give: of dangerous migrants pouring across the border in an invasion.
His analogy falls apart in another, very important way. D-Day was a massive effort by the armed forces of free, democratic nations to loosen the grip of fascism on France. The invaders on D-Day were the good guys.
We gather that this is not how Higgins views the arriving migrants.