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Question: Did 1.6 million people enter the United States last year?


Answer: Not exactly

What is an “encounter”?

In the fiscal year 2021, the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) recorded roughly 1.66M “encounters” at the border. That is the highest number since 1960. Each “encounter” does not represent a unique person, but rather an interaction with a person, whether they have seen them before or not. Therefore, if a Border Patrol officer encounters the same person crossing the border illegally five times, then it is recorded as five separate encounters, even if they were with the same person. 

So how many “people” crossed the border illegally?

Border Patrol has recently begun releasing that information in their “Monthly Operational Reports”. In the last six months, about 62% of the total encounters – about 711,000 – were unique individuals.


Question: Where are they coming from?


Answer: Mostly from Mexico and Central America


36% are Mexican. Almost all Mexicans who are coming are single adults.

44% are from Central America. Roughly half of those are single adults. Half are families or unaccompanied minors.

About 20% of migrants come from other countries, primarily Ecuador, Brazil, Venezuela, Haiti and Cuba.


Question: What happened to people caught crossing illegally?

Answer: 62% were immediately expelled, 38% were processed another way and either released with a Notice to Appear (NTA) or later deported

How many were quickly expelled?

1.03M were returned to Mexico, whether they came from there or not.
Adults: Of the total encounters, approximately 64% were single adults, and 85% of these were expelled immediately.

Families: 27% were members of a family traveling together, and 28% of these were also expelled.

Children: 9% were unaccompanied minors, often referred to as “UACs”. More than 70% were between the ages of 15-17.  3% were expelled.

What happens to those who are “processed”?

That leaves 620,000 people that were processed, about 38% of the total.  “Processing” doesn’t mean that they were released. People might begin formal processing because they are being charged criminally, are given temporary humanitarian relief, there are children involved or another reason.

  • Some have prior orders of removal and are removed.

  • Some are sent to ICE detention to pursue an asylum case.

  • Unaccompanied children are sent to shelters

Only around 20% of those who are apprehended at the border are actually released there. If they are released at the border, they must arrange their own transportation to their final destination. Sometimes NGOs help.


Question: Is the border “open”?

Answer: Yes and no.


The border is open to trade, tourism, business, etc.  However, the ability to attempt entry without proper documents is severely restricted, even for those attempting to plead asylum.


Title 42 requires migrants to be expelled to Mexico quickly

Title 42 is a public health law that denies entry to people who are coming from a country with an infectious disease outbreak, like COVID, and the CDC has ordered Border Patrol to enforce it. Since every country on earth has COVID outbreaks, most people are expelled immediately under Title 42. The CDC is less concerned that these people are bringing COVID into the US as they are that COVID will spread in the cramped quarters of Border Patrol processing facilities.  As a result, they are removed with minimal processing – usually outdoors, on-site, in 15 minutes - and no opportunity to request asylum. More than 1M were removed through Title 42.  Most of these were single adults.


Title 8 charges and/or prosecutes migrants under immigration laws 

Title 8 refers to immigration laws – specifically, who is and is not allowed to enter - and what happens to those who attempt to enter illegally. These are generally referred to as “apprehensions” (vs. “encounters”), because the Border Patrol has decided to charge them with something. Since they will be charged in some way, they are processed more completely, and therefore, can ask for asylum. Approximately 620,000 were processed under Title 8. This is what happened to them:

  • 195,000 were transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) while they awaited their court date. ICE then decides whether to release them on parole and under what conditions (such as GPS ankle monitors).

  • 249,000 were released quickly “on their own recognizance”, which is almost always granted for humanitarian reasons. This is usually what happens to families with children or unaccompanied minors. These people are supposed to have somewhere to go, although that is not always the case. They are also given a date when they are required to be in court and the judge will decide their fate.

  • The remainder – 176,000 - were formally deported after being charged.  If they are caught crossing again, they will be processed as criminals.


Migrant Protection Protocols, aka MPP or “Return to Mexico”

Migrant Protection Protocols require that if someone files for asylum or similar relief, they must remain in Mexico until the date set for their hearing when the judge will decide whether to grant asylum or continue with removal orders. The MPP program was implemented in January 2019 and resulted in tens of thousands of people (including children) living in squalid “camps” in Tijuana, Reynosa, Matamoros, and Ciudad Juárez for months or even years.  


The program was terminated on June 1, 2021, allowing asylum seekers and others who had legal cases filed to wait in the US for their assigned hearings. There was a period of some months where people were processed and allowed to enter.

The State of Texas filed an injunction on August 13, 2021, so the program continued to return people to Mexico to wait until the District Court of Texas ordered them to stop. Even though the Department of Homeland Security again terminated the program on October 29, 2021, they have not enforced it, and it continues to be the standard practice. During the final 4 months of FY2021 – when MPP was being implemented - about 3,300 people were returned to Mexico to wait for their hearings.


Question: Are people infected with COVID coming into the US?

Answer: Those who are detained or released into the US are tested.


Border Patrol provides masks to everyone in their custody, but do very little testing. State and local health agencies and NGOs who provide shelter and basic services after people are released provide testing and treatment to those who are sick.


If they are sent to an ICE detention facility, they are screened and tested both upon admission and before being deported. All detainees are offered vaccines, but are not required to accept them.


Works Cited


American Immigration Council. (2021, October 15). A Guide to Title 42 Expulsions at the Border. Retrieved from American immigration Council:

Congressional Research Service. (2021, December 22). Immigration: Apprehensions and Expulsions at the Southwest Border. Retrieved from Congressional Research Service:

Congressional Research Service. (2021, September 20). U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) COVID-19 Policies and Protocols at the Southwest Border. Retrieved from Congressional Research Service:

Department of Homeland Security. (2021, December 6). Court Ordered Reimplementation of the Migrant Protection Protocols. Retrieved from Homeland Security:

Office of the Inspector General. (2022, February 8). CBP Officials Implemented Rapid DNA Testing to Verify Claimed Parent-Child Relationships. Retrieved from Office of the Inspector General:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection. (2021, October 1). Custody and Transfer Statistics FY2021. Retrieved from U.S. Customs and Border Protection:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection. (2021, October 1). Migrant Protection Protocols FY2021. Retrieved from U.S. Customs and Border Protection:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection. (2021, December 2). Nationwide Enforcement Encounters: Title 8 Enforcement Actions and Title 42 Expulsions FY2021. Retrieved from U.S. Customs and Border Protection:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection. (2022, January 1). CBP Enforcement Statistics Fiscal Year 2022. Retrieved from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection. (2022, January 12). Criminal Noncitizen Statistics Fiscal Year 2022. Retrieved from U.S. Customs and Border Protection:

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