WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
5 Apr 2013 | Commentary

Is the Prospect of Immigration Reform Doubling the Rate of Migrant Border Crossings?

“We’ve seen the number of illegal aliens double, maybe even triple since amnesty talk started happening.”

— Unnamed Border Patrol agent to Townhall, July 20, 2012

Please click here to visit the Border Fact Check Blog

The past few months have seen several claims that the possibility of immigration reform providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented migrants would result in a significant increase in migrants seeking to enter the United States illegally.

The Facts:

The Border Patrol does not release its statistics about undocumented migrants it has apprehended—which the agency is currently using as its main border security indicator—until after the end of each fiscal year. Without this data, it is difficult assess whether or not there has been a spike in border crossings in recent months due to the possibility of immigration reform.

While U.S. agencies do not release monthly statistics, the Mexican government’s National Institute for Migration (Instituto Nacional de Migración, INM) does release monthly reports on the number of Mexicans whom U.S. authorities have repatriated back to their home country. During January and February 2013, INM received 54,818 Mexican nationals at its ports of entry in Mexico’s five border states. For the same two months in 2012, INM received 60,804, almost 6,000 more migrants than the current year. The number of Mexicans repatriated so far in 2013 is also significantly lower than the 66,711 reported for the first two months of 2011.

This drop in the number of repatriated Mexicans is also in line with the downward trend in Border Patrol apprehensions of Mexican nationals that we have seen since FY2006.

While fewer Mexican migrants are attempting to cross the border, the same cannot be said for Central American migrants, who continue to be willing to face multiple dangers, such as extortion and kidnapping, while crossing through Mexico in search of a better life in the United States. Border Patrol apprehensions of “other than Mexicans” (OTMs, the vast majority of which are Central Americans) doubled between FY 2011 and FY2012, when 94,532 OTMs were apprehended. INM statistics on Central Americans repatriated out of Mexico also show a slight increase in the first two months of 2013 compared to the same period for 2012.

Based on this information, if the number of Mexican migrants remained the same, there would have to be a staggering increase in Central Americans for border crossings to have doubled. U.S. authorities would need to have apprehended as many Central Americans as Mexicans in January and February of this year—around 55,000—something that has never happened. 55,000 apprehensions of Central Americans in two months would be equal to more than half of all of the OTMs the Border Patrol apprehended in all twelve months of FY2012, and it would mean that the FY2013 total would be on track to reach 330,000 apprehensions of OTMs—a 349 percent increase over last year. It is extremely unlikely that there has been such a dramatic increase in crossings by Central American migrants in the space of a few months. Thus, it is most unlikely that claims of a “doubling” of undocumented migration are true.

WOLA’s Border Fact Check debunks false or misleading claims to inform you about what is really happening on the U.S.-Mexico border. To read the latest from our experts, visit www.borderfactcheck.com.