Data: The number of migrants apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border in March is highest in 15 years

Unaccompanied minors hits all-time high in March, records show

. (Henry Keller/KSAT)

In March, Border Patrol agents encountered more migrants in a single month than they have since 2006, according to the latest numbers provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

According to the latest data available from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Border Patrol agents logged 172,331 apprehensions in March along the U.S.-Mexico border. That’s a 71% increase from February, when 101,028 were reported. Spring months are generally the highest of the year for crossings.

Authorities also reported that 18,890 unaccompanied children were taken into custody at the border in March, roughly twice as many as the 9,271 children who came to the border in February. That number is an all-time high, according to the Associated Press. The children make up the majority of the individuals in CBP custody, according to the agency.

(The below chart shows apprehensions by Fiscal Year, which runs from Oct. 1 - Sept. 30). Having issues? Click here.

Most people coming into the country present themselves to border agents once they cross and are detained and processed. Many of the men, women and children are refugees fleeing poverty, corruption and economic crises in their home countries including Central America and Mexico. Many are sent back to their home countries and others find legal avenues to remain in the U.S.

“CBP has experienced an increase in encounters and arrests. This is not new. Encounters have continued to increase since April 2020, and our past experiences have helped us be better prepared for the challenges we face this year,” said CBP Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Commissioner Troy Miller. “We are committed to balancing the need to maintain border security, care for those in our custody, and keep the American people and our workforce safe.”

An analysis by the U.S. Immigration Policy Center found that migrations regularly increase between January and May, when months are warmer. The numbers decrease in summer months when conditions become dangerously hot.

Experts say 2021 numbers will likely be higher due to a backlog of migrants who would have come if not for the coronavirus pandemic halting travel and some court proceedings in 2020.

The agency’s statistics show that the latest influx appears to be a continuation of a massive jump in border crossings that started at the beginning of 2019 and peaked in May of that year.

Still, the 2019 and 2021 numbers have been eclipsed in 2007 and before that. For example, in 2000, CBP reported at least 100,000 apprehensions for eight consecutive months, peaking in February with 211,328 apprehensions.

In other words, the influx in migrants is nothing new: it’s a cyclical trend that has fluctuated over the last two decades and is often less tied to the president’s policies and fueled more by seasonal trends and the increasingly difficult and dangerous realities that people are trying to escape.

The spike in migrants entering federal custody at the border has led to an outcry from Republican leaders like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who have blamed President Joe Biden’s policies for the situation.

On Wednesday, Abbott appeared in front of the Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio — which recently began housing more than 1,000 migrant teenage boys for the federal government — after he said one or more complaints of abuse and understaffing were received by state agencies earlier that morning. The governor called on the Biden administration to close the facility due to the allegations, which are being investigated by the Texas Rangers.

RELATED: What we know about the abuse allegations of migrant children in San Antonio

Who is crossing in 2021?

The vast majority of those apprehended in 2021 are single adults, CBP data showed.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement that authorities have swiftly expelled most of them, except for those with “acute vulnerabilities.”

“The expulsion of single adults does not pose an operational challenge for the Border Patrol because of the speed and minimal processing burden of their expulsion,” Mayorkas wrote.

The main challenge authorities are facing is the housing of unaccompanied minors who have shown up at the United States border.

Out of the 569,879 apprehensions logged in fiscal year 2021, 47,642 were unaccompanied minors, children 17 and younger.

“They are vulnerable children and we have ended the prior administration’s practice of expelling them,” Mayorkas wrote.

This policy change, coupled with the latest spike, has led to crowding issues, making it difficult for Health and Human Services to quickly take in more children due to capacity restrictions amid the pandemic, resulting in overwhelmed Border Patrol facilities.

That’s pushed the federal government to open more facilities, many of which are located in Texas.

“As difficult as the border situation is now, we are addressing it,” Mayorkas wrote. “We have acted and we have made progress. We have no illusions about how hard it is, and we know it will take time.”

Read more on our Border page or Data page:


About the Authors:

Fares Sabawi has been a journalist in San Antonio for four years. He has covered several topics, but specializes in crime, courts, open records and data visualization.

Kolten Parker is digital executive producer at KSAT. Previously, he worked at the San Antonio Express-News and the Texas Observer.