By Ernesto Castañeda
Like many other Republican candidates and conservative talk show hosts, Kari Lake is using the racially tinged issue of immigration to fuel turnout in her gubernatorial campaign in Arizona. The former television anchor has boldly proclaimed that on her first day as governor, she would declare the state under “invasion.”
Lake is not the only conservative politician to speak in hyperbolic terms about immigration during the midterm campaign season. Texas Governor Greg Abbott, outgoing Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have sent migrants on buses or planes to mostly cities in the Northeast, most notably New York and Washington D.C., to draw attention to what they perceive as a crisis – and to appeal to their political base.
In a letter to U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, U.S. Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina described his efforts to combat the crisis as a “dereliction of duty” and possible grounds for his impeachment.
“These astronomically high numbers are due in no small part to the political decision to rescind a number of President Trump’s policies that were stemming the flow of illegal aliens and illicit drugs across the southern border,” Cruz and Graham’s letter said.
Indeed, the numbers that were used to support their claims were tweeted in September 2022 by Cruz, who said that 4.2 million “illegal aliens” had crossed the border since the inauguration of President Joe Biden in 2021.
The Republican National Committee says that number, which it claims represents “a crisis of Democrats’ making,” breaks down to about 2 million so far each year.
As midterms approached, citing these numbers had become commonplace – and misleading.
As an immigration researcher and expert on international borders, I have followed the figures that purport to track the number of immigrants crossing the border for years. I am worried that the figures cited are being repeated without providing an adequate explanation.
These numbers represent encounters, not the number of individuals who have come across the border. It’s a misleading and inaccurate way of describing the number of people coming into the U.S.
The meaning of encounters
For decades, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has released the number of arrests at the United States-Mexico border. But that changed two years ago as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and new agreements signed with the Mexican government.
In March 2020, the federal agency announced that it would add another category to the total number of apprehensions – the number of expulsions.
The combined statistics were then called “encounters.”
According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, there were a total of around 4,450,240 encounters from January 2021 to October 2022.
But an “encounter” does not mean a single person or a first attempt to enter.
The Department of Homeland Security defines an encounter as a noncitizen who is declared to be inadmissible for not having a U.S. passport, green card or visa. But “encounters” also includes the people who are allowed to stay in the U.S. as they apply for asylum or a humanitarian visa for reasons such as political persecution or fleeing human trafficking.
Migrants and asylum seekers often try to enter multiple times and are counted separately each time.
For example, in August 2022, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol revealed that over 22% of encounters are people who had at least one prior encounter in the previous 12 months.
The report further reveals that only 36% percent of the encounters with people from Mexico and northern Central America are unique encounters – and only 35% percent for those from Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua.
It is hard to know, with the current counting system, just how many unique individuals interacted with agents at the border. What is certain is that because of multiple counts of the same individuals, the total number is less than the 4.2 million new undocumented immigrants that Cruz claims have entered the U.S. since the start of the Biden administration.
Impact of COVID-19 on migration
In addition to counting the same people multiple times, the number of total encounters overestimates the number of individuals because of another reason: the huge number of expulsions that are used in counting the total number of encounters.
Enacted in 2020 to reduce the spread of COVID-19, “Title 42” – a provision of U.S. public health law – allows U.S. law enforcement officers to immediately deny entry to asylum seekers.
Under Title 42, around 51% of the people encountered are immediately expelled or put into deportation proceedings. After being sent back, some may try again to have their asylum cases heard, and are counted one more time as “encountered.”
According to the Biden administration, 1.3 million people were expelled last year. Among the total encounters, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol reported that over 1 million people were denied entry under Title 42 alone in each of the last two fiscal years.
The large numbers of expulsions clearly show that the U.S. does not have open borders, as frequently proclaimed by conservative politicians.
Statistics are important, but understanding the meaning of those numbers and their context is even more valuable.
Ernesto Castañeda is Associate Professor of Sociology at American University.
The Conversation arose out of deep-seated concerns for the fading quality of our public discourse and recognition of the vital role that academic experts could play in the public arena. Information has always been essential to democracy. It’s a societal good, like clean water. But many now find it difficult to put their trust in the media and experts who have spent years researching a topic. Instead, they listen to those who have the loudest voices. Those uninformed views are amplified by social media networks that reward those who spark outrage instead of insight or thoughtful discussion. The Conversation seeks to be part of the solution to this problem, to raise up the voices of true experts and to make their knowledge available to everyone. The Conversation publishes nightly at 9 p.m. on FlaglerLive.
The definition is:
“The Department of Homeland Security defines an encounter as a non-citizen who is declared to be inadmissible for not having a U.S. passport, green card or visa. But “encounters” also includes the people who are allowed to stay in the U.S. as they apply for asylum or a humanitarian visa for reasons such as political persecution or fleeing human trafficking.”
Does that 4,450,240 encounters exclude, How many cross the border that aren’t caught to be documented as any type of encounter even ? Neither being an accept (stay)/reject (deport) encounter ?
Whatever the number is it’s like the Biden inflation, record breaking for highest ever in US History. So the experts, once again have a failed counting system. And we’re supposed to trust election results with this going on and nobody in the Federal Government can agree on what the definition of an encounter is even ? Like Covid death tolls, the system fabricates numbers for an agenda ?
Ray W. says
Once again, Jimbo99’s comment on today’s inflation rate appears to be hobbled by his lack of intellectual rigor. No, inflation is not at its highest level ever. Inflation is at the highest level since the Reagan Recession of July 1981 to November 1982, which is why articles on the subject keep referring to today’s inflation rate as the highest in four decades.
During the Reagan Recession, the Fed kept raising interest rates, ultimately to 21.5% in 1982, in its effort to curb inflation. As I have commented before, my first home purchase, in 1984, carried a 13.5% mortgage interest rate. The loan officer told me at the time that he thought we would never see single digit mortgage rates again. Unemployment rates peaked at over 10% during the Reagan Recession. Eventually, tax cuts and the stimulus provided by increased defense spending, in part, ended the recession. One major trigger for the Reagan Recession was the onset of the Iran-Iraq War, when Iraq invaded the marshlands of southwestern Iran. Crude oil production by Iran was significantly reduced, which impacted worldwide oil prices and affected the U.S. economy.
As for his allegation that experts are failing us, Jimbo99 doesn’t acknowledge that the Trump administration was the cause of the redefinition of the “encounter” criteria, as pointed out by the author of the article. Who knew that a Trump administration redefinition of a government counting method would make it look like immigration was increasing rapidly, when in reality, the agency compiling figures using the redefined term is simply double counting its encounters with legal and illegal immigrants! Oy vey!
Of course, Jimbo99 knows the answer to his question about illegal entrants who are not caught by border agents of whatever agency, which is that such non-encountered entries are not tallied by any governmental agency. Their numbers can be estimated, but uncaught illegal immigrants simply disappear into our economy. As I have commented before, three Mexican families which had illegally entered the country moved onto a relative’s farm in the early 1950’s. My aunt and uncle registered them with the government and successfully helped them become American citizens. It took time. The families worked hard and became a part of the local community, with their children going to school and graduating. The families stayed on the farm for nearly 30 years, but my uncle died, and my aunt had to lease out the farm to other relatives who had their own farms; she had her own career to keep her from farming the land.
As far as trusting election results, of course we can trust election results. The entire statutory system in Florida has responses for numerous situations and provides for legal remedies if a challenger files a valid claim in an appropriate court, complete with appellate remedies. The court system provides for a final ruling. After all, finality is one of the goals of our constitutionally-created judiciary. Our founding fathers knew how gullible the mob could become, and they would never have trusted partisans to settle factual and legal disputes. They ensured that the people, when adopting either their state or the federal constitutions, would relinquish all necessary political power to decide factual and legal disputes to those courts. Once the people gave that political power to the courts, it was no longer up to the people to decide the facts or the applicable law. The people always retain the right to comment on such issues, but they no longer have the right to decide with finality those issues, because they gave that power to the courts. Of course, the courts require moving parties to meet their burdens of production and proof and when the moving parties fail to do so, the cases are either dismissed or the court rules against the moving parties. All elections eventually are deemed final, by statutory and constitutional definition, and we move on.
I suppose that I cannot prove that Jimbo99 is intentionally trying to mislead FlaglerLive readers, nor can anyone else. Given that acknowledgment, perhaps the most probable remaining explanations include that Jimbo99 either lacks the necessary intellectual rigor needed to post fully accurate comments or he is a partisan who just cannot comprehend what he is doing, having been blinded by his partisanship. Of course, malice is a possible explanation, but Jimbo99 repeatedly shows that he can do better than he does here, so malice seems unlikely.
Palm Coast Mike says
Denying there is a border crisis? Ha. Just blinded by hate for republicans.
The majority of Americans know there is a border crises with more illegal migrants crossing than ever.
And if dems keep denying it then they will get their butts kicked at the ballot box just like Charlie and Val. DeSantis by 19 points and Marco by 16 points.
Ray W. says
This one is easy. Palm Coast Mike is simply typing words that have little meaning and he knows it. If the method of counting “encounters” changes in a significant manner, as is argued by the author of the article, all relevant comparisons to prior published figures of “encounters” become invalid. Therefore, no one can know whether immigration, legal or illegal, is increasing by comparing “encounters” then and now. Palm Coast Mike does not address this issue. A person might be right, but if he can’t prove it ….. .
Dennis C Rathsam says
For 2 years I have watched the invation. Druggies, gangs, thiefs,child molesters have entered of country. Biden looks the other way, while the southern states try to control the problem. Biden, his VP have yet to come to the Rio Grande to see the mess. We have enough poor poeople here in the US. We dont need no more. They dont know english, most have no skills…. Look at how Tex, Arizona, have suffered…. Ther fentenyol comming across the border has killed thousands of Americans. What has Biden done????? America first has become, America last under his president. Inflation is the highest in 40 years. Too many Americans will die this winter because they cant get oil or gas, to heat thier homes. Its sad the richest country in the world has turned against its own people, seems the invaders have more rights than real tax paying Americans.
Ray W. says
Dennis C. Rathsam, as usual, is just talking to hear his head roar.
What Else Is New says
Really? Have you actually met those who have crossed the border seeking asylum? Have you actually met those who you wrongly suggest have brought drugs and are thieves and child molesters? Or perhaps you’ve seen US citizens who are selling drugs, are thieves and child molesters. Stop drinking that cool-aid. Not working for you. Fear mongers all. Can we stop the hate? Can there be peace in your hearts?
They can fix their own countries. We don’t need a wall, we need a DMZ.