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A migrant from Honduras seeking asylum in the U.S. stands in front of tents at the border crossing on March 1, 2021, in Tijuana, Mexico. (AP/Bull) A migrant from Honduras seeking asylum in the U.S. stands in front of tents at the border crossing on March 1, 2021, in Tijuana, Mexico. (AP/Bull)

A migrant from Honduras seeking asylum in the U.S. stands in front of tents at the border crossing on March 1, 2021, in Tijuana, Mexico. (AP/Bull)

By Laura Schulte April 12, 2021

Grothman miscalculates with claim of ‘largest surge of migrants’

If Your Time is short

  • The number of migrants attempting to cross the border between the U.S. and Mexico is on the rise this year 

  • Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the U.S. is “on pace” to encounter more people at the border this year than any time in two decades.

  • The actual number of migrants is below numbers from previous years in the early 2000s, when more than 1 million people were attempting to enter the U.S. each year

America is seeing an increase in the number of people attempting to enter the country through the southern border. 

Thousands of men, women and children have already crossed the border this year, a significant uptick after the inauguration of President Joe Biden in January 2021 -- and on the heels of a year when border crossings declined due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Democrats blame the increase on policies put into place when Donald Trump was president, while Republicans blame changes made by Biden. 

On March 24, 2021, U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Wisconsin, tweeted: "We have encountered the largest surge of migrants in the last 20 years, there is a crisis at the border. @JoeBiden’s actions have told the rest of the world that the US does not enforce its immigration policies, which is harmful to our country & those seeking to immigrate here." 

For the purpose of our fact check, we’re going to focus on the first part of his statement -- that the U.S. is now seeing the largest surge of migrants since 2001. 

Is he accurate? 

Number of migrants is increasing

The tweet included a link to a speech Grothman made March 24, 2021 on the House floor. But in the speech, Grothman did not reference whether the surge of migrants approaching the southern border was the largest in the last 20 years. Instead, he claimed that the number of immigrants has increased three times from what it was under the Obama administration.  

So, that’s not helpful in terms of getting to the bottom of the claim that this has been "the largest surge of migrants in the last 20 years."

Grothman communications director Tim Svoboda said the information from the tweet was taken from a March 16, 2021 Reuters article, in which Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the U.S. is "on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years."

Note the subtle, but important, distinction: The Reuters article said the U.S. is on pace to reach that mark. The tweet made it sound as if we have already surpassed it.

Svoboda said the tweet had been written by a staffer and contained incorrect information. The tweet has since been deleted. 

Featured Fact-check

The picture of what is happening on the border is complicated.

According to a March 27, 2021 report by NPR, Biden has noted the number of migrants reaching the border typically increases in the early months of the year, as the temperatures warm but before the blistering heat of the summer months.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Control data from 2019 and 2018, the number of migrants reaching the border starts to drop in May and typically decreases as the summer goes on. Of course, it’s unclear what will happen in 2021 and if this year will follow the same pattern. 

In any case, while there has been a surge, the number of people trying to cross the border has not exceeded past records, according to Michelle Mittelstadt, director of communications for the Migration Policy Institute. 

She said apprehensions at the border peaked at more than 1.64 million in fiscal year 2000, and remained in the 1 million range annually until fiscal year 2006. The largest spike after that was in fiscal year 2019, when more than 851,000 people were apprehended at the border, according to federal data.  

So far in fiscal year 2021, which runs from Oct. 1, 2020 to Sept. 30, 2021, the Border Patrol has carried out nearly 382,000 apprehensions and expulsions. 

"While it is indeed possible that the trends will be the largest in 20 years, and DHS is said to be planning for such a contingency, that reality has not yet occurred," Mittelstadt said in an email. "In short, the statement could potentially be accurate in the future, but for now remains premature." 

Our ruling

Grothman claimed "we have encountered the largest surge of migrants in the last 20 years."

While the number of people attempting to enter the county via the U.S.-Mexico border has increased, the numbers so far are nowhere near those reported in the early 2000s, which were in the neighborhood of about 1 million annually. 

That said, Biden’s own Homeland Security secretary said the country is "on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years."

Our definition for Mostly False is "the statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression."

That fits here.

 

Our Sources

Tweet from Rep. Glenn Grothman, March 24, 2021 (Now deleted)

Email conversation with Timothy Svoboda from Grothman’s office, March 30, 2021

Facebook, "Congressman Grothman speaks about the border crisis," March 24, 2021

Reuters, "U.S. facing biggest migrant surge in 20 years: Homeland Security," March 16, 2021

Email conversation with Michelle Mittelstadt, March 29, 2021 

United States Border Control, "Total illegal alien apprehensions by fiscal year," April 1, 2021

U.S. Customs and Border Control, "Southwest Land Border Encounters," April 1, 2021

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More by Laura Schulte

Grothman miscalculates with claim of ‘largest surge of migrants’

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