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Mexico–United States border crisis

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Mexico–United States border crisis
MotiveIllegal immigration to and asylum seeking in the US
TargetMigrants from Central America
Deaths7,216 (1998–2017)[1]
At least 853 in 2022[2]
Arrests2.3 million in 2022[3]

The Mexico–United States border crisis is an ongoing migrant crisis in North America concerning the migration of illegal immigrants from Latin America and other countries[4] including China[5][6] through Mexico and into the United States.

Southwest Border Encounters by Month
October 2020 – December 2023

Migrant encounters at the Mexico–U.S. border began to surge in late 2020, reaching a record number of 1.73 million migrant encounters in fiscal year 2021, 2.76 million in fiscal 2022, and more than 2.8 million in fiscal year 2023. The migrants, who are mostly of Guatemalan, El Salvadorian, Honduran, Nicaraguan, and Venezuelan citizenship, are reported to be escaping economic hardship, gang violence and environmental disaster in their home countries (particularly acute in Guatemala and Honduras) to seek asylum in the US.

The number of migrant encounters reached a peak in April 2022, when Border Patrol reported over 224,000 apprehensions. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump administration used Title 42 to expel migrants from the United States with a stated aim of reducing public health risks. Towards the end of 2022, a large camp of migrants had formed on the Mexican side of the border waiting for Title 42 to be lifted. The conditions they were living in were described as "dire."

Unlike the demographic of migrants in the preceding years, an increasing proportion of current migrants arriving at the Mexico–US border are children, most of whom are unaccompanied children. In fiscal year 2023, about 137,275 unaccompanied minors crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. Policies related to the care and custody of such children have been controversial.


The number of migrants attempting to cross the Mexico–US border has been steadily increasing since April 2020.[7] Every year, tens of thousands of unaccompanied children arrive at the Mexico–US border, igniting debate on how to react.[8]

The agents of the US Border Patrol (USBP), a federal law enforcement agency, are tasked with deterring, detecting, and apprehending any person crossing into the US illegally at any point not designated as a port of entry by the US attorney general. Additionally, agents interdict and seize contraband smuggled into the US through non-ports of entry. USBP agents are both immigration and customs officials.[9] Border security and immigration policy has been a wedge issue in politics for a long time. In 1996, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act was passed which expedited the deportation of immigrants who were detained crossing the border. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, more aggressive immigration laws were implemented which gave more power to the USBP.[10]

Death along the border[edit]

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) documented 686 deaths and disappearances of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in 2022, making it the deadliest land route for migrants worldwide.[1] This is a stark surge compared to when the USBP reported 294 migrant deaths in the fiscal year 2017 (ending September 30, 2017), which was lower than in 2016 (321), and any year during the period 2003–2014. Some of the leading causes are exposure (including heat stroke, dehydration, and hyperthermia. Many recent deaths and disappearances have been linked to the record-breaking heat and therefore hazardous crossing conditions of the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts. However, rates of migrant deaths and disappearances have only increased in recent years.

According to the estimates by group Border Angels, about 10,000 people have died in their attempt to cross border since 1994. However, the statistics mentioned above reflect only known deaths and do not include estimates for those who have never been found. Some migrant deaths may go unreported even when they are brought to the attention of officials. In a recent interaction between WOLA and Border Patrol officials, the agency claims to have found 640 deceased migrants between October 2022 and August 2023.[2] Yet, this still reflects an undercount. There have been minimal efforts from local law enforcement agencies to keep accurate and robust tracking of migrant deaths. Additionally, there is inadequate infrastructure to identify and return remains to families.


Obama administration[edit]

In 2014, the US declared a crisis at the border due to an influx of unaccompanied minors and women making their way through checkpoints. The US southern border had long struggled with implementing policies that aim to prevent immigration-related tragedies. With a decline in unlawful immigration from Mexico, the crisis predominantly concerned increased immigration from the Northern Triangle of Central America (NTCA), encompassing Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Academics claimed the immigration crisis was a result of US interventions in Central America during the Cold War, with high amounts of political instability, violent crime, and poverty stemming from the US's support of authoritarian regimes.[11]

In several places, dangers including kidnapping, murder, and sexual assault threatened thousands of Central American migrants who had been clustered in Mexican border cities like Matamoros, Tamaulipas, for months, blocked from seeking asylum in the US because of new restriction policies. The US government and United Nations provided free transportation to return refugees to their homes in Central America, but many others who were stuck in Matamoros said that desperation had led them to consider treacherous and potentially life-threatening methods of illegal entry—crossing the river, climbing into tractor-trailers driven by human smugglers, or both. In 2019, as the USBP reported, the number of migrants caught hiding in tractor-trailers along the border had risen by 40 percent that year.[12]

Proposed legislative remedies[edit]

In June 2013, the Senate approved the most comprehensive immigration overhaul bill since 1986. Negotiated by a bipartisan group of eight senators, fourteen Republicans joined all Democrats in voting for the measure; President Obama promised to sign it. Most conservative Republicans opposed the bill and said it would be dead on arrival in the House. The bill provided for increased border security, including 20,000 new border patrol officers, completion of 700 miles of border fencing and new border surveillance equipment. The bill also provided a "path to citizenship" for some eleven million illegal immigrants already living in the country. Gallup polling found the overhaul was broadly supported by both Democrats and Republicans. Speaker John Boehner refused to consider the bill in the House, promising "to do our own bill." No immigration reform bill emerged.[13][14][15]


The immigration legacy of the Obama Administration is marked by complexity. While it was known for its stringent enforcement of immigration laws, resulting in the deportation of a significant number of migrants, the establishment of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) stands out. This initiative has provided protection from deportation for over 750,000 individuals who were brought to the U.S. as children.

Trump administration[edit]

President Donald Trump examines border wall prototypes in Otay Mesa, San Diego
In June 2018, thousands gathered in San Francisco for “Families Belong Together”, a protest against the Trump administration’s immigration policies that were deemed to be cruel and inhumane

In September 2019, the US Supreme Court allowed a new ruling to take effect that could curtail most asylum applications at the border. The ruling would demand that most asylum seekers who pass through another country first will be ineligible for asylum at the US's southern border. Mark A. Morgan, acting commissioner of the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), stated the ruling was set to take effect on the week of October 8, 2019.[16] In an interview with Time, Donald Trump criticized the Obama administration for the separations immigration policy. As the Trump administration stated, the policy is necessary to decrease the "fraudulent" asylum claims among the entrance of Central American families coming to the border.[17]

The Trump administration tried to stop migrants from getting into the US at all, asking them to take a number at the border and to wait until they are called for a chance to have their asylum cases heard. As a result, in September 2019, the US immigration court faced over one million waiting for their cases to be heard, matching the highest backlog seen in the US.[18]

In March 2020, the Trump Administration implemented Title 42 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, aiming to mitigate infections within migrant detention facilities. Since its inception, Title 42 has facilitated the deportation of over 2.7 million illegal immigrants, including many who had been previously deported after multiple attempts to enter the U.S. The Biden Administration maintained Title 42 until its expiration in early 2022, following the CDC's announcement.

Biden administration[edit]

President Joe Biden has named Vice President Kamala Harris in March 2021 to manage the US response to the migrant crisis along the border.

In the fiscal year 2021 beginning October 2020, the USBP confirmed more than 1.6 million encounters with migrants along the Mexico–US border, more than quadruple the number in the previous fiscal year and the largest annual total on record. Encounters had fallen by about half in fiscal 2020, when the border was closed during the COVID pandemic, following a surge in encounters in fiscal 2019.[19]

On January 13, just one week prior to Biden's inauguration, more than 3,000 people departed Honduras and El Salvador for the US. That number grew to approximately 7,000–8,000 one week later.[20] On January 16, Guatemala and Mexico deployed the military to their borders, in an attempt to stop the migrant caravan from transiting through their countries on the way to the US to no avail.[21][22]

On his first day in office, Biden halted the construction of Trump's Mexican border wall, ending the national emergency declared by the Trump administration in February 2019.[23]

Early during Biden's tenure, a surge in migrants at the US border stirred controversy. According to a 2021 Politico report, Republicans expected prior to Joe Biden taking office that there would be a border surge at the start of 2021 (due to seasonal patterns and regional crises) and planned to make it a central issue in the leadup to the 2022 midterm elections.[24] The number of migrants arriving in the US from Central America had been rising since February 2021.[25] The USBP reported an increase in encounters with unaccompanied children from the month before. The reported 5,858  encounters in January to 9,457 in February constituted the largest one-month percentage increase in encounters with unaccompanied children since CBP began recording data in 2010.[26][27][28]

In February 2021, a group of migrants was found massacred in northern Mexico. A few months later, the US Customs and Border Patrol reported that various colored bracelets with writing on them being used as a method to track a migrant's payment status to their coyote and drug cartels that control various parts of Mexico. The bracelets reportedly are used for tracking status of protection from cartel actions such as death, kidnapping, and the right to be in cartel controlled territory or to cross the border into the US.[29][30]

In March 2021, amid a rise in migrants entering the US from Mexico, Biden told migrants: "Don't come over." He said that the US was arranging a plan for migrants to "apply for asylum in place", without leaving their original locations. In the meantime, migrant adults "are being sent back", Biden said, in reference to the continuation of the Trump administration's Title 42 policy for quick deportations as migrants continued to cross into the US.[31] Biden earlier announced that his administration would not deport unaccompanied migrant children; the rise in arrivals of such children exceeded the capacity of facilities meant to shelter them (before they were sent to sponsors), leading the Biden administration in March to direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help manage these children, but facilities are being overwhelmed because of the numbers of adults and children coming into the country.[32]

On March 24, 2021, Biden tasked Vice President Kamala Harris to reduce the number of unaccompanied minors and adult asylum seekers. She is also tasked with leading the negotiations with Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.[33] In June 2021, Vice President Harris visited Guatemala and Mexico in an attempt to address the root causes of migration from Central America to the United States.[34] During her visit, in a joint press conference with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei, Harris issued an appeal to potential migrants, stating "I want to be clear to folks in the region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States-Mexico border: Do not come. Do not come."[35]

In September 2021, over 30,000 Haitian migrants crossed the border in the Del Rio, Texas, sector. At one point, a migrant camp beneath the Del Río–Ciudad Acuña International Bridge contained over 15,000 temporary residents. The squalid conditions in the camp attracted widespread international attention.[36] Photos of horse-mounted USBP agents allegedly mistreating migrants led to an incident conservative media referred to as Whip Gate.[citation needed]

The USBP detained more than 1.7 million migrants crossing the Mexico–US border illegally in the 2021 fiscal year, the highest number ever recorded.[37] In November 2021, only 31 percent of Americans approved of the president's handling of immigration.[38]

Progressives have pressed the Biden administration to impede the expulsions and provide asylum to migrants who have legitimate claims of persecution in their homelands. It stated in April that the order would be lifted on May 23, with new plans in place to deal with the influx.[39]

The Dallas Morning News reported in September 2023 that a July survey conducted in four Central American countries found that many in those countries had heard misinformation that the United States had an "open border" policy. The executive director of America's Voice, an advocacy group that promotes immigration reform, said human smugglers were amplifying the false "open border" narrative to lure Central Americans to the United States border, under the impression they would be granted asylum upon arrival. BSP Research, which conducted the survey, asserted that disinformation originated with politicians and conservative media. Media Matters used a video database to track the use of the term "open borders," finding that Fox News and Newsmax each used the term over 3,000 times from November 2020 through August 2023.[40]

Many Republicans and conservative commentators alleged Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was to blame for the border crisis. On January 28, 2024, House Republicans introduced two articles of impeachment against Mayorkas, alleging "willful and systemic refusal to comply with the law" and breach of the public trust. Constitutional scholars, Democrats, and some conservatives asserted Republicans were improperly using impeachment to address immigration policy disputes rather than for high crimes and misdemeanors, of which there was no evidence.[41][42][43][44][45] A February 6 full House vote to impeach failed to pass, on a 214-216 vote.[46] The impeachment resolution passed on a 214-213 vote one week later.[47]

On 4 June 2024, Biden signed Executive Order 14123, temporarily shutting down asylum requests and rendering any migrants who crossed the border illegally or without explicit authorization ineligible for asylum, and allowing the removal of migrants who do not have a credible reason for requesting asylum. The order went into effect immediately after being signed due to the threshold of average daily encounters reaching 2,500 people being exceeded.[48][49] As part of the new action, the Biden administration announced the closure of the South Texas Family Residential Center, the largest immigrant detention center in the United States. The primary reason cited for this decision was the high cost of operating the facility.[50]

Proposed legislative remedies[edit]

Following months of negotiations, on February 4, 2024, a bipartisan group of senators released a 370-page bill intended to sharply reduce incentives for migrants to attempt border crossings. The bill included a "border emergency" provision that would automatically require the border to be closed if border encounters reached an average of 5,000 per day over several days. Trump, Speaker Mike Johnson and other Republicans falsely asserted the bill allowed 5,000 illegal border crossings per day. In fact, the bill would end the practice of "catch and release" that allows migrants entry into the country while they await immigration hearings; instead, migrants would be detained pending hearings.[51] The bill also provided for a tighter asylum application and approval process, with speedy removal of migrants who do not qualify. The plan included hiring thousands more border patrol and asylum officers and increasing detention capacity. It also provided for thousands of work visas for migrant spouses of U.S. citizens awaiting immigrant visas. President Biden supported the bill, while Speaker Johnson said days before its release that it would be "dead on arrival" in the Republican-controlled House. Shortly after the proposal was announced, House majority leader Steve Scalise declared it would not be brought before the House for a vote. One negotiator, independent Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, asserted the border would have been closed every day so far in 2024 if the bill had been law; Biden promised in January that he would immediately close the border if the bill was enacted. Lead Republican negotiator James Lankford of Oklahoma, among the most conservative Republican Senators, attempted to defend the bill throughout the weeks leading to the vote. Trump, the leading Republican candidate for president in 2024, publicly and privately pressured Republicans during the Senate negotiations to oppose the proposal. The National Border Patrol Council, a labor union representing some 18,000 border patrol officers, quickly endorsed the Senate bill. The union had endorsed Trump in the 2020 election and had been sharply critical of Biden's policies.[52][53][54][55]

Senate Republicans swiftly turned against the bill upon its release, after Trump openly said he did not want Joe Biden to score a political win with the legislation.[56] On February 7, Senate Republicans blocked the proposal in a floor vote. Lankford said on the floor before the vote that a "popular commentator" had told him a month earlier, "'If you try to move a bill that solves the border crisis during this presidential year, I will do whatever I can to destroy you, because I do not want you to solve this during the presidential election.'" Two days before the vote, Trump told a radio host, "This is a very bad bill for his career."[57] The $118 billion package included $60 billion for Ukraine military and $14 billion for Israel.[58] Trump said at a rally days later, "We crushed crooked Joe Biden's disastrous open borders bill," while Biden said, "Every day between now and November, the American people are going to know that the only reason the border is not secure is Donald Trump and his MAGA Republican friends."[59][60]

On June 4, 2024, Biden passed an executive order to shut down the border if illegal crossings reached an average of 2,500 migrants a day in a given week,[61] and stated that "there is a global migrant crisis" and that "if the United States doesn't secure our border, there's no limit to the number of people who may try to come here."[62]

See also[edit]


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  57. ^ Multiple sources:
  58. ^ https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2024/02/07/senate-border-security-vote/
  59. ^ Chang Beattie, Anita (February 10, 2024). "Trump Threatens To 'Encourage' Attack Of NATO Members Behind On Payments". Barron's.
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Further reading[edit]