90 Miles From Tyranny : The Surge of Children and Families at the Border Began when Biden Took Office and Is Not a Seasonal Variation

Friday, March 26, 2021

The Surge of Children and Families at the Border Began when Biden Took Office and Is Not a Seasonal Variation

A brief analysis published by the Washington Post on March 23 suggested that “there’s no migrant surge at the U.S. southern border.” Instead, the authors argue, the dramatic increase in apprehensions of children and families is just the “usual seasonal bump” in apprehensions that happens every year. They also argue that the increase in apprehensions reflects “pent-up demand” of people who would have come in the last year “but for the pandemic”. (My colleague Andrew Arthur has also written about the Post analysis.)

The first argument is simply not supported by the data. The second argument may have some plausibility except for the fact that this pent-up demand suddenly manifested itself as soon as Biden took office. A far more reasonable interpretation of the data is that President Biden’s pronouncements and policies, including not returning unaccompanied children under Title 42 and releasing Central Americans within 72 hours of apprehension into the United States, as well as his stated desire to end most deportations and continued support for legalizing most illegal immigrants, is spurring larger numbers of families and children to enter illegally.

Figure 1 shows that in January and February of last year, before Covid, the number of children and families apprehended was much less than in January and February of this year. (Unaccompanied alien children are called “UACs”; “single minors” are children apprehended with adults other than a parent.) Once in place in April, the Covid travel restrictions caused a falloff in apprehensions for a time, but by the end of last year apprehensions were back to pre-Covid levels. However, when President Biden took office, the number surged, suddenly and dramatically. If it really was “pent-up demand” and unrelated to the change in administration, then the question has to be asked: Why was this demand suddenly released only after Biden’s inauguration?

On its face, it would seem that the policies and statements by the new administration are being interpreted by prospective migrants to mean that if they are apprehended, they are more likely to be released. Or, if they enter successfully, they are less likely to be sent home than was the case under the prior administration. Some interviews with migrants indicate that this is the case.

Figure 2 examines the seasonality of apprehensions of children and families. It compares December of each year to February of the following year (the green bar). It also compares January to February of the same year. February of this year looks to be very different from...

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