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By Nusaiba Mizan November 15, 2021

What's true, what's unproven in Dan Patrick's claim about people apprehended at southwest border

If Your Time is short

  • Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was correct that more than a million people were apprehended at the border in fiscal year 2021.

  • His estimate of millions more people crossing the border without being apprehended is unlikely to be accurate, because Border Patrol has been apprehending a greater share of people trying to enter the U.S. illegally.

The potential reinstatement of Trump-era Migrant Protection Protocols, also called the Remain in Mexico policy, has been in flux since President Joe Biden took office.

Biden ended the policy soon after taking office. It required people seeking asylum without proper documentation to wait in Mexico for their immigration court date. The policy affected more than 70,000 migrants, many of whom legally sought asylum or refuge at the southwestern border, the El Paso Times reported.

The administration was ordered to reinstate these protocols by a federal court in Texas in August, and the Supreme Court upheld that decision. Mexico would have to agree to the policy's reinstatement.

But the Biden administration again expressed on Oct. 29 its goal to end the policy if the courts allow it through a memo by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. The memo said the policy likely reduced the flow of migrants, but Mayorkas opposed the policy for humanitarian reasons.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, center, appearing Oct. 18 on Fox News, says the number of migrants crossing the border under Biden's presidency is "out of control.

Republicans have been calling for the reinstatement of the policy, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, appearing Oct. 18 on Fox News, said the Migrant Protection Policy lowered the number of migrants and spoke in favor of the court-ordered reinstatement of the policy.

Patrick described the number of migrants crossing the border under Biden's presidency as "out of control." Patrick said, "And right now, we are looking at over a million people apprehended this year, meaning probably another 2 or 3 million have come in illegally."

Let’s take a look at that claim: Has the Border Patrol apprehended more than 1 million people, and have millions more people crossed the border?

More than a million migrants

When asked about Patrick’s source, his office pointed to Customs and Border Protection’s website for the number of encounters between Customs and Border Protections and migrants on the Southwest land border.

Encounters are the total number of law enforcement actions by Customs and Border Protection.

There were 1.7 million Border Patrol encounters on the southwestern border in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, according to the data page updated Oct. 22. Excluding the recently released September data, which was published after Patrick made his statement, there were 1.5 million encounters.

But 1.7 million encounters do not mean 1.7 million people tried to cross the border. Customs and Border Protection indicated in a news release on August operations that just over 1 million individuals were encountered year-to-date in fiscal 2021. A news release on September operations indicates agents encountered 142,710 individuals on the Southwest border in September.

Those two values together place the number of individuals who tried to cross the border in fiscal 2021 at 1.1 million.

So, Patrick was accurate when he said more than 1 million people were apprehended at the border this year.

Patrick likely off in estimate of people not apprehended

There's a second part to this claim: Patrick said "probably another 2 or 3 million have come in illegally."

Patrick's spokesperson wrote in an email, "we are clearly on pace for well over 2 million encounters" and that the number of people who crossed the border between ports of entry but were not apprehended are from ratio estimates by "various law enforcements." His office did not answer follow-up questions from PolitiFact Texas on which law enforcement entities made those estimates.

The number of people who entered the U.S. illegally but were not apprehended is not available from Customs and Border Protection, but the Homeland Security Department does calculate border security metrics.

The methodology behind the Border Patrol's migrant apprehension rate is presented in annual reports. The latest available report is the 2020 report with fiscal 2018 data. Some of these metrics rely on estimates of the number of people who crossed the border undetected.

The apprehension rate was 70% in 2018. Ruth Wasem, who teaches policy courses on immigration at the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs, noted this rate suggests the number of people who were not apprehended this year would be lower than Patrick's estimate.

Patrick's estimate of 2 million or 3 million people would mean two-thirds or more of migrants weren’t apprehended.

That might have been the case in the early 2000s when the apprehension rate ranged from 33% to 43%, but not now, Wasem said. The apprehension rate generally has increased over time.

In an October Fox News interview, the former head of the Border Patrol, Rodney Scott, said there were more than 400,000 "got aways" over the past year.

The Migration Policy Institute estimates 500,000 to 600,000 people entered the country without authorization and were not apprehended last year.

"There's also been statements from CBP officials throughout the year that they're seeing about 1,000 got aways per day. If you multiply that by 365 days to account for 365 days in a year, it comes out to about 365,000," said Jessica Bolter, an analyst for the Migration Policy Institute.

So, it could be estimated there were 365,000 to 600,000 people entering the country without authorization in fiscal 2021.

Our ruling

Patrick said, "And right now, we are looking at over a million people apprehended this year, meaning probably another 2 or 3 million have come in illegally."

The first part is accurate when you look at figures released by the Border Patrol.

Because the Border Patrol has been apprehending a higher share of people over time, the number of people who were not apprehended in fiscal 2021 was likely far fewer than his estimate.

We rule this claim Half True, which means the statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.

Our Sources

Dan Patrick, Fox News America’s Newsroom interview, Oct. 18, 2021 (1:30 mark) 

Email from Steven Aranyi, Press Secretary for the office of the Texas Lieutenant Governor, Oct. 28, 2021.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security, "Migrant Protection Protocols," Jan. 24, 2019 (archived).

U.S. Department of Homeland Security, "DHS Issues A New Memo to Terminate MPP," Oct. 29, 2021.

Carolina Cuellar, Texas Public Radio, "Biden administration terminates 'Remain in Mexico' policy again," Nov. 1, 2021.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, "Southwest Land Border Encounters," October 2021.

Emails from Justin Long, headquarters branch chief for U.S. Customs and Border Patrol media relations, Oct. 28, 2021 and Nov. 4, 2021.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, "Nationwide Enforcement Encounters: Title 8 Enforcement Actions and Title 42 Expulsions," Oct. 25, 2021.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, "CBP Releases August 2021 Operational Update," Sept. 15, 2021.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, "CBP Releases September 2021 Monthly Operational Update," Oct. 22, 2021.

Phone interview with Ruth Wasem, LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, Oct. 29, 2021.

Phone interview with Jessica Bolter, associate policy analyst at Migration Policy Institute, Nov. 2, 2021.

Email from Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, Nov. 3, 2021.

Rebecca Morin, USA TODAY, "Homeland Security issues a new memo ending Trump-era ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy," Oct. 29, 2021.

Lauren Villagran, El Paso Times, "Asylum seekers at US-Mexico border see hope in Biden administration immigration changes," Jan. 22, 2021.

Department of Homeland Security, "Department of Homeland Security Border Security Metrics Report," Aug. 5, 2020.

Fox News, "Biden spent $5 million a day to not build the border wall: former Biden official," Oct. 6, 2021.

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What's true, what's unproven in Dan Patrick's claim about people apprehended at southwest border

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