The number of Border Patrol apprehensions is climbing rapidly this year. Border Patrol has apprehended 273,089 people along the Southwest border since the beginning of fiscal year 2019 through to the end of February 2019. If those numbers continue to climb, Border Patrol apprehensions this fiscal year could exceed the annual number in any year since the start of the Great Recession. Even though Border Patrol has apprehended more people in recent years, the number of criminal aliens arrested by Border Patrol has dropped since at least FY 19.
According to Border Patrol, criminal aliens are those who have been convicted of crimes here or abroad if the conviction is for conduct which is also criminal in the United States. From the beginning of fiscal year 2015 through the end of February 2019, the absolute number and percent of criminal aliens arrested by Border Patrol have fallen in every year (Figure 1). In 2015, about 5.7 of all Border Patrol apprehensions were criminal aliens. For FY 19 through the end of February, only 0.7 percent of people apprehended by Border Patrol were criminal aliens. If the number of criminal aliens apprehended continues to decline apace for FY 19, the absolute number will be 75 percent below 2015.
Many politicians and political commentators complain that people showing up on the border and entering illegally or asking for asylum are criminals. The falling number of previously convicted criminals showing up is evidence to the contrary. Relative to earlier surges in apprehensions along the border, the larger number of women, children, and asylum seekers means that today’s surge is preferable to previous surges.
When people were worried about the migrant caravan last year, I wrote a blog arguing that it probably didn’t contain many criminals and likely looked a lot like the rest of the illegal immigrant population. The Border Patrol figures on criminal alien arrests tend to agree with me. Like previous surges of illegal immigration, this one presents problems, but they are better problems than those faced in the past.