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During a meeting with the Border Trade Alliance in June, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz said border communities in his home state of Texas are overwhelmed by the volume of people attempting to enter the country illegally.
In making his point, Cruz offered statistics about recent apprehensions and projections for the coming year.
Here are his comments in full, according to a press release issued by his office:
"The Texas border is a wonderful place. Unfortunately right now, the border is a flashpoint for enormous political disagreement. On border security, what we are seeing is a crisis. As you know, we apprehended over 144,000 people in a single month. That is a pace, which if it continues for 12 months, would put us on a pace for nearly 2 million apprehensions on the border. That exceeds what we can handle. And I’ve heard from a number of you in this room about how the volume of illegal crossings is now overwhelming infrastructure, overwhelming the ability of the communities to absorb that much population coming in."
Cruz repeated his claim about apprehension figures in a statement later that same day, after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced that he would deploy 1,000 Texas National Guard troops to the border.
"In May, the Border Patrol apprehended over 144,000 individuals – and if that pace continues, we’re looking at nearly 2 million apprehensions in a single year," Cruz said in the statement.
We decided to fact-check these figures. Let’s dive in.
Cruz conflates apprehensions, ‘inadmissibles’
First, we’ll look at Cruz’s claim that federal agents have "apprehended over 144,000 people in a single month."
Maria Jeffrey, a spokeswoman for Cruz, directed us to an article from U.S. News and World Report titled, "Arrests at Southern Border Jumped to 144,000 in May."
She also shared a link to data from Customs and Border Patrol with migration statistics from the southern border.
A chart accompanying the data shows that in May, there were 144,278 people apprehended or deemed inadmissible at the U.S.-Mexico border — the highest monthly total this fiscal year, the timeframe CBP uses to analyze apprehension data.
The problem here is that this figure includes both apprehensions and ‘inadmissibles,’ people who attempt to enter the country legally at ports of entry but were unable to enter.
This could include people "presenting themselves to seek humanitarian protection," people who were seeking lawful admission but didn’t meet the requirements, and people who ultimately withdrew their application for admission and returned to their countries of origin.
These individuals are not taken into custody at the border, but instead are turned away — the U.S. News and World Report story is wrong to count them in the same category as apprehensions.
(It’s also wrong to categorize all apprehensions as arrests, since CBP defines apprehension as "the physical control or temporary detainment of a person who is not lawfully in the U.S. which may or may not result in an arrest.")
In May, 11,391 people attempted to enter the country through ports of entry and were deemed inadmissible. This included 6,799 single adults, 4,124 family units, 386 unaccompanied children and 72 accompanied minors.
The actual number of apprehensions at the southern border in May was 132,887, which included 84,542 family units, 36,838 single adults and 11,507 unaccompanied children.
Cruz’s estimate ignores other factors
The second part of Cruz’s statement looks at projected apprehensions. He said if apprehensions continue at the volume they did in May for the next 12 months, it would "put us on a pace for nearly 2 million apprehensions on the border."
If we look at the 144,000 figure offered by Cruz and multiply it by 12, it would translate to more than 1.7 million apprehensions over the next year. Jeffrey confirmed that this is how Cruz calculated his estimate.
"And yes, 144,000 x 12 is 1,728,000 – so nearly 2 million," she wrote in an email.
While Cruz’s math is right, experts said that this is not an accurate way to estimate apprehensions.
"People who know the border well are aware that apprehensions typically follow seasonal patterns, so taking what in most years is the highest month of the year for apprehensions and multiplying by 12 will get you a rate well in excess of yearly totals," said Michelle Mittelstadt, spokeswoman for the Migration Policy Institute, in an email.
Data shows that June apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border have been lower than those in May during every fiscal year since 2000 — with the exception of 2017.
But relying on seasonal patterns could still give an inaccurate estimate of future apprehensions, due to the changing demographics of migrants.
Jeffrey Passel, senior demographer for the Pew Research Center, said the current influx of migrants is largely from Central America and includes significant numbers of families and children "who are turning themselves in to the Border Patrol with the intention of claiming asylum."
Historic migration patterns at the southern border were driven by a different population group.
"For most of the (data on seasonal migration patterns), well over 95% of the apprehensions were Mexicans (mostly men), people coming to work in agriculture or other seasonal work," Passel said. "Thus, models built on the historical apprehensions probably are not applicable to the current situation."
But Cruz’s methodology for estimating future apprehensions isn’t better.
Mittelstadt said Cruz could come up with a more accurate estimate if he used existing data to estimate future flows, instead of relying on figures from one month. This would account for monthly fluctuations and include data from both low and high months.
"We’d be reluctant to undertake any such exercise, though, without noting how dynamic conditions are at the border right now," she said, pointing to changing policies at the border and the deployment of Mexican troops to the country’s northern border.
Since the start of the fiscal year (October), federal agents have made 593,507 apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border. More than 65% were people in a family unit or unaccompanied children.
Looking at the calendar year, there have been 439,895 apprehensions at the southern border, with more than 67% being people in a family unit or unaccompanied children.
Néstor Rodríguez, a sociology professor at the University of Texas at Austin who studies migration, also said in an email that the best way to estimate future apprehensions takes a variety of factors into account, including seasonal fluctuations and "variables such as conditions of unemployment and crime levels in home countries and local settings."
Cruz said, "As you know, we apprehended over 144,000 people in a single month. That is a pace, which if it continues for 12 months, would put us on a pace for nearly 2 million apprehensions on the border."
Cruz’s assessment of the number of apprehensions includes figures for people who presented themselves to federal officials at ports of entry who were then "deemed inadmissible." These individuals are turned back and are typically not taken into custody.
The second part of his statement offered an estimate for future apprehensions based on those figures. Changing demographics at the border make it tricky to estimate future flows, but experts agreed that Cruz’s estimate (144,000 x 12) is far from accurate, since it doesn’t take any other variables into account.
We rate this claim Mostly False.
MOSTLY FALSE – The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.
U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, Sen. Cruz: Congress Must Devote the Necessary Resources to Deal With the Overwhelming Influx of People Crossing the Border Illegally, June 21, 2019
U.S. Customs and Border Protection, CBP Southwest Border Total Apprehensions/Inadmissibles, accessed June 21, 2019
U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Southwest Border Migration FY 2019, accessed June 21, 2019
U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Southwest Border Sectors: Total Illegal Alien Apprehensions By Fiscal Year, accessed June 21, 2019
Email interview with Michelle Mittelstadt, spokeswoman for the Migration Policy institute, June 24, 2019
Reuters, Monthly border apprehensions reach highest level since 2007, May 8, 2019
PolitiFact Texas, No, more people will not enter the United States illegally than be born here in a year, June 5, 2019
National Public Radio, Guidance On The Words 'Apprehended' And 'Arrested' When Covering Border Crossings, April 11, 2019
Pew Research Center, What’s happening at the U.S.-Mexico border in 6 charts, April 10, 2019
Pew Research Center, Border apprehensions increased in 2018 — especially for migrant families, Jan. 16, 2019
Email interview with Stefan Cornibert, spokesman at the Pew Research Center, June 24, 2019
PolitiFact, Did 'zero-tolerance' policy reduce illegal immigration?, July 19, 2018
Email interview with Néstor Rodríguez, professor at the University of Texas at Austin, June 25, 2019
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