87th LegislatureFederalHealthcareImmigration & BorderIssuesState HouseSouthwest Border Apprehensions Break 20-Year Record in April, Border Patrol Reports

While enforcement encounters remained high in April, the number of encounters in Texas barely moved compared to March.
May 15, 2021
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In statistics released on Tuesday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported 178,622 enforcement encounters in the southwest region in April. As U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas predicted earlier this year, this figure is the highest number of apprehensions in one month in over 20 years.

The last time there were this many enforcement encounters in the southwest region was during the presidency of Democrat Bill Clinton. In March 2000, more than 220,063 illegal aliens were arrested, according to historical data provided by CBP.

The once-in-a-vicennium figure is a modest increase from March and the Biden administration is emphasizing the silver lining — the feds took into custody 10 percent fewer unaccompanied children and nine percent fewer family units in the southwest region.

Border patrol personnel have been overwhelmed by the need to care for unaccompanied minors. CBP said that they are seeing some relief on that front. While in March unaccompanied minors spent an average of 115 hours in border patrol facilities, they spent an average of 28 hours in April. As of Tuesday, there were only 455 kids in CBP’s custody as compared to an average of 4,109 in March and 2,895 in April.

In terms of southwest land enforcement encounters, the most dramatic increase in Texas was a 25 percent uptick in the number of single adult illegal aliens apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley sector. In that sector, 16,992 single adult arrests were reported the month before last while there were 21,216 reported in April. The steepest decrease in Texas was a 42 percent drop in the number of family unit apprehensions in the El Paso sector — 3,679 in March and 2,118 last month.

The Texan Tumbler

In Texas, there was only a one percent increase in total enforcement encounters from 117,081 in March to 117,904 in April. Texas saw a 15 percent drop overall in family unit apprehensions and an eight percent drop in unaccompanied minor apprehensions, but a 15 percent increase in single adult encounters. Numerically, most of the increases were outside Texas, including an 87 percent increase in family unit apprehensions in California’s El Centro sector.

The agency reported that the federal government repatriated about 63 percent of the individuals CBP arrested under the special immigration policies known as Title 42, which were invoked to protect the American public from the spread of COVID-19. This does not include the people deported pursuant to regular immigration laws.

Climate Change

In a recent address to the Washington Conference on the Americas, Vice President Kamala Harris ascribed the border problem to a number of factors, including climate change and corruption abroad. Harris has been leading the White House’s immigration policy since March, specifically the U.S. response to turmoil in Central America.

The vice president pointed to “acute factors” and listed hurricanes, the COVID-19 pandemic, drought, and hunger as contributors to the border surge. 

Harris also emphasized what she called “long-standing issues” that she believes also feed into the factors that cause individuals to flee to the United States. She listed violence, poverty, lack of economic opportunity, and what she called “the lack of climate adaptation and climate resilience.” Harris also stressed corruption and the “lack of good governance,” condemning the Salvadoran legislature for expelling justices from El Salvador’s supreme court.

“[N]o matter how much effort we put in on curbing violence, on providing disaster relief, on tackling food insecurity, on any of it, we will not make significant progress if corruption in the region persists,” Harris said. “If corruption persists, history has told us, it will be one step forward and two steps back.”

Mayorkas, the DHS secretary, maintains the position that the current administration “inherited a dismantled system plagued by chaos and cruelty,” as he said in a press release on Saturday.

Meanwhile, some local officials in Texas have cast doubt on the success of federal immigration practices, including Criminal District Attorney Nicole Bishop of Kendall County, who said policies regarding the detention of witnesses “are allowing, if not promoting, the cartel’s business of smuggling and trafficking.”

Republicans contend that perverse incentives, such as the federal government’s suspension of the “remain in Mexico” policy, are at fault for the spike in illegal immigration that Texas and other states along the southern border have seen this year. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said in a press event on Wednesday that Biden and Harris have “produced an absolute disaster on our southern border.”

The White House, which has started referring to itself as the “Biden-Harris administration,” has sent mixed signals since January about the status of the border wall system. The president abruptly shut down the project as soon as he started work in the Oval Office, but Mayorkas was as recently as April discussing resuming the project. 

In addition, Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX-15) wrote a letter to Biden and pointed out that the feds have continued their efforts in court to acquire land for the construction of the border wall.

“When President Biden took office, he promised the end of border wall construction yet the land takings have continued,” Gonzalez said in a press release last month.

Referring to the possible damage to terrain in South Texas caused by unfinished construction, Gonzalez said, “I’ve requested a meeting with the President and his top officials to get to the bottom of the issue and discuss next steps before hurricane season is in full swing. I hope that we will meet quickly and devise a solution to prevent the destruction of homes, public property, and agriculture operations in Hidalgo County.”

‘We’re Not Going To Ask for Permission’

Gov. Greg Abbott has butted heads with the Biden administration over its handling of the border surge, including accusations that the federal government is promoting the spread of COVID-19 and failing to care well for unaccompanied children in its custody.

Chad Prather, one of Abbott’s challengers for the 2022 Republican nomination for governor, says on his campaign website that he supports “funding and construction for a completed Texas border wall.”

Another candidate for governor, former state Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas), has also made border security a featured issue in his campaign.

“Our border is still wide open. Property taxes keep going up. And our election laws continue to be ignored. Plain and simple, our politicians aren’t getting things done, and Texans have rightfully run out of patience,” Huffines said in a press release announcing his candidacy.

On the subject of illegal immigration, Huffines added, “We will finally finish the wall and secure our border — and we’re not going to ask for permission to do it.”

Huffines would need the cooperation of the state legislature to fulfil such a campaign promise, and similar work has proven difficult during this year’s regular session.

In March, Rep. Bryan Slaton (R-Royse City) introduced legislation to direct state authorities to finish construction of former President Trump’s border security system on the state’s dime. Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) referred House Bill (HB) 2862 to the House State Affairs Committee, where Chairman Chris Paddie (R-Marshall) did not schedule the bill for a hearing.

Slaton also tried to redirect funding from the Texas Arts Commission to the border wall project by introducing an amendment to the proposed state budget, though he ultimately withdrew the amendment after Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) raised a point of order against it. A lamaker will commonly withdraw an amendment to save time if it becomes likely the speaker will rule it out of order.

Abbott has also prioritized border security in recent months, including launching a state-led strategy called Operation Lone Star to combat crime along the southern border as CBP has struggled to keep illegal immigration under control and respond to humanitarian emergencies. As of April, the Texas National Guard and the Texas Department of Public Safety had apprehended about 800 criminals through the program.

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Hayden Sparks

Hayden Sparks is a reporter for The Texan. He has coached high school competitive speech and debate and has also been involved in community theater and politics. A native Texan, Hayden served as a delegate at the Republican Party of Texas Convention in 2016. He is on track to receive a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Liberty University. In his free time, Hayden is known to take walks around the neighborhood while listening to random music on Spotify.