Culture Wars/Current Controversies

What’s happening at the U.S.-Mexico border in 7 charts

It is very difficult to get honest or accurate information on this topic because it is such an emotionally-charged and ideologically-driven issue with incentives for misrepresentation existing in a range of contexts.  But the Pew Research Center has a very solid reputation for engaging in empirically-driven research. I tend to trust their research and their findings on controversial topics tend to match the findings of other competent research organizations on the same topic.

By John Gramlich and Alissa Scheller Pew Research Center

The U.S. Border Patrol reported more than 1.6 million encounters with migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border in the 2021 fiscal year, more than quadruple the number of the prior fiscal year and the highest annual total on record.

The number of encounters had fallen to just over 400,000 in fiscal 2020 as the coronavirus outbreak slowed migration across much of the world. But encounters at the southwest border rebounded sharply in fiscal 2021 and ultimately eclipsed the previous annual high recorded in fiscal 2000, according to recently published data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the federal agency that encompasses the Border Patrol.

Migrant encounters refer to two distinct kinds of events: expulsions, in which migrants are immediately expelled to their home country or last country of transit, and apprehensions, in which migrants are detained in the United States, at least temporarily.

Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, most encounters have resulted in expulsion from the U.S., unlike before the pandemic, when the vast majority ended in apprehension instead. The Trump administration began expelling migrants in March 2020 under a public health order aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19. The Biden administration has continued to expel migrants under the same order.

Below is a closer look at the shifting dynamics at the southwest border, based on the recent CBP statistics. Most of these statistics refer to federal fiscal years, which run from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, as opposed to calendar years. It’s also important to note that encounters refer to events, not people, and that some migrants are encountered more than once.


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