Mar 23, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Border crisis not as bad as 2019... for now

Data: U.S. Customs and Border Protection; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: U.S. Customs and Border Protection; Chart: Axios Visuals

While the migrant crisis plaguing the Biden administration still pales in comparison to another peak under then-President Trump in 2019, the trends are alarming and only expected to get worse with warmer weather.

The big picture: The Biden administration is seeing a weekly average of about 500 unaccompanied children cross the southwest border every day, and it was able to return to Mexico just 10% of the migrant families who crossed illegally Saturday, according to government data provided to Axios.

Driving the news: If the average number of unaccompanied kids holds, there could be more than 15,000 crossing the border in March — more than the administration's projected peak of 13,000 in May, as Axios reported last month.

  • The Biden administration has continued to say they are using a public health order to return migrant families to Mexico, but the percentage of families expelled has steadily fallen.
  • Only 10% of the more than 1,800 families caught crossing the border Saturday were expelled under the order, according to documents leaked to Axios.
  • Administration officials have pointed to Mexico's limited capacity to take in families, especially those with young children. The administration also has chosen to not use a Trump-era policy and is allowing unaccompanied children to remain in the United States rather than expelling them.

By the numbers: Migration trends vary, but April and May have typically been peak months for migration because of milder weather.

  • During the 2014 crisis under President Obama, the number of unaccompanied children crossing the border did not surpass 8,000 until May, reaching a peak of 10,620 in June, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data.
  • Just last month, there already were more than 9,000 unaccompanied kids apprehended by the Border Patrol — also surpassing every month of the crisis year of 2019, except May.

The other side: The Biden administration is avoiding 2019's never-before-seen levels of family migration — so far.

  • But February numbers more than doubled from the month before, even with officials quickly returning some families to Mexico.

The bottom line: The Biden administration is trying to address the problems through meetings with Mexico and Guatemala, hotel contracts, temporary overflow shelters, rolling back COVID-19 protocols and expedited migrant release.

  • The numbers continue to grow, however.
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