Why Criminal Arrests on the Mexican Border Have Fallen in 2019


Why Criminal Arrests on the Mexican Border Have Fallen in 2019

Yes, it is true.

Customs and Border Protection apprehended 1,148,024 people during Fiscal Year 2019. Border Patrol apprehended 75 percent of them while CBP officers apprehended the remaining quarter. The number of people CBP apprehended was up 68 percent over 2018, but the number of criminals arrested in 2019 was only up about 15 percent over the previous year. As a result, criminal apprehensions in 2019 comprised the smallest share of all apprehensions since 2015, when publicly available data were first published online (Figure 1). We only have data for the first month of the 2020 fiscal year, so those numbers are included even though this post will not draw conclusions about 2020 from a single month of data.

Figure 1

CBP Apprehensions by Criminal Status, 2015-2020


Source: CBP

Note: 2020 data is for the first month of that fiscal year.

The number of people apprehended by Border Patrol was up 112 percent from 2018 to 2019, from 404,142 to 859,501. Although the number of Border Patrol apprehensions more than doubled, the number of criminals apprehended rose by just 2.1 percent. Border Patrol separately recorded the number of convictions of those it apprehended in each year by crime (Table 1). The number of convictions is different from the number of criminals, as one criminal could have multiple convictions. In 2019, the number of criminal convictions spread among those apprehended criminals dropped by 31 percent. The number of criminal convictions among those criminals apprehended is lower for every crime except for Illegal Weapons Possession, Transport, Trafficking. This occurred while the number of apprehensions doubled.

There were only two convictions for homicide and manslaughter among the 859,501 Border Patrol apprehended in 2019. That is the stock of convictions for homicide and manslaughter. Even if it was the number of new convictions in 2019, it would be shockingly low.

Perhaps Border Patrol agents apprehended fewer criminals in 2019 because they were diverted to processing asylum claims, leaving fewer agents available to patrol the border which allowed more criminal aliens to evade detection. Thus, the observed falling numbers of criminal aliens apprehended could arise from a lack of detection rather than fewer criminals trying to enter. The number of single adults apprehended in recent years is evidence against that theory. They are the most likely to be criminals. However, the number of single adults apprehended by Border Patrol has risen over the years and the number apprehended by CBP Officers at ports of entry has only dropped slightly. This isn’t a slam dunk response but merely evidence against the theory that Border Patrol is distracted by asylum seekers while criminals are entering undetected.

This article by Alex Nowrasteh originally appeared in the CATO at Liberty blog in 2019.

Image: Reuters