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A Ten-Year Look at Inadmissible Migrants and Paroled Migrants at Ports of Entry

Published Jan 12, 2024

When noncitizens arrive at a port of entry, either along the border or at an international airport, border officials must assess whether each person can show that they are allowed to enter the United States (i.e., whether they are admissible) or whether they are not admissible (i.e., inadmissible[1]). When a border agent decides that someone is not admissible, it does not necessarily mean that a person has a criminal background or is a public safety risk; rather, it often means that the individual simply does not have a current visa or other documents that meet the standard to make them admissible. However, even if a border agent finds that a person is not admissible, there are provisions in the law that may allow that person to physically enter the country. One of these provisions, parole, allows the government to permit noncitizens to enter the country lawfully on a temporary basis and potentially receive work authorization.[2]

This report seeks to answer the question of how frequently in recent years Customs and Border Protection (CBP) encountered noncitizens at ports of entry of who are not admissible, as well as the question of how many of these “inadmissibles” are ultimately recorded as having been paroled into the country. This question is relevant since one—recently growing—application of the parole authority is to allow immigrants to enter the country to seek asylum or for other humanitarian reasons. Although this report focuses only on those cases where CBP recorded parole as the final disposition, other dispositions such as issuing a Notice to Appear or referring a person for a credible fear interview may also allow a noncitizen to seek asylum.[3] These data can be explored on TRAC’s Inadmissibles tool online.

According to data obtained from Customs and Border Protection through TRAC’s Freedom of Information Act requests and then analyzed by the Clearinghouse, the number of inadmissible immigrants arriving at ports of entry has increased substantially in recent years, as has the percent of those inadmissibles that have been allowed into the country under the parole authority.[4] See Figure 1 and Table 1 below.[5]

Figure 1. Paroled Migrants as a Proportion of all Inadmissibles at U.S. Ports of Entry, Fiscal Year 2012-2023

Among all inadmissibles, paroled migrants accounted for the largest increase in recent years, increasing nearly four-fold from around 35,314 in FY 2019 to 130,016 in FY 2022. These numbers increased again to 301,069 in the first ten months of FY 2023. Between FY 2012 and FY 2022, the largest percentage of inadmissible immigrants recorded as paroled into the country at a port of entry occurred in FY 2015 at 40.5 percent. Overall, 31.9 percent of inadmissibles have been paroled since FY 2012, including 22.8 percent during the Trump administration. In FY 2022, however, that number increased to 34.2 percent and in FY 2023, that number increased again to 38.2 percent, although this is not at an historical high. Thus, in the past two years, ports of entry have seen larger numbers of inadmissible migrants arriving at ports, and more of those migrants have been paroled into the country both in total numbers and as a fraction of all inadmissibles. Despite the growth in inadmissibles and people paroled, these numbers still make up a very small fraction – less than one-tenth of one percent -- of the millions of people that currently arrive at ports of entry. In FY 2023, for instance, the Office of Field Operations reported 363.2 million arrivals for the year with an average of 30 million arrivals per month.[6]

Increases in the number of paroled migrants coincides with humanitarian parole programs for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans, and Ukrainians, as well as the use of CBP One to schedule appointments at ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border for asylum seekers. As detailed in a previous TRAC report, if a person is inadmissible and they do not qualify for one of the visa waiver or parole categories, that person is typically not allowed entry into the United States.

Table 1. Number of Inadmissibles and Parolees, FY 2012-FY2023
Fiscal Year Inadmissibles Paroled Percent Paroled
2012 148,820 27,800 18.7%
2013 181,144 53,869 29.7%
2014 195,498 71,340 36.5%
2015 226,724 91,715 40.5%
2016 279,905 111,675 39.9%
2017 222,039 74,481 33.5%
2018 216,137 41,856 19.4%
2019 217,857 35,314 16.2%
2020 131,410 28,076 21.4%
2021 132,284 29,732 22.5%
2022 380,652 130,016 34.2%
2023* 788,953 301,069 38.2%
*Only includes first ten months of FY 2023.

Overall Inadmissibles by Port of Entry

The number of inadmissibles encountered vary significantly across the Custom and Border Protection’s 300 ports of entry in the United States. The most common ports of entry for inadmissibles have changed over time. Contrary to popular understanding, ports of entry that receive inadmissible migrants are not necessarily located along the U.S.-Mexico border. For instance, in FY 2023, Office of Field Operations officials at U.S. ports of entry recorded the most inadmissibles (94,852) at Miami International Airport, Florida, followed by San Ysidro, California (78,781), and Brownsville, Texas (75,230). See Table 2.[7]

Table 2. Top Ten U.S. Ports of Entry by Average Number of Inadmissibles Each Month

The national total of inadmissibles is concentrated in a few ports of entry: just eight ports of entry made up 60 percent of all inadmissibles in the first 10 months of 2023.[8] In FY 2023, Miami International Airport, FL, had an average of 9,485 inadmissibles per month, the highest monthly average of inadmissible immigrants at a single port of entry at any time over the last 12 years. Among ports of entry located at airports, Ft. Lauderdale International Airport, FL, came second with an average of 5,261 per month, followed by John F. Kennedy Airport, NY, with 3,253 per month. Notably, three airports made the top ten busiest ports of entry in FY 2023.

At the US-Mexico border, San Ysidro, CA, consistently had the highest number of inadmissible immigrants, with an average of 7,878 per month in FY 2023, followed by Brownsville, TX, at 7,523. Ports of entry at the US-Mexico border made up seven of the top ten busiest ports in FY 2012 and FY 2017, but only five of the top ten in FY 2023.

With 4,202 monthly inadmissibles in FY 2023, Buffalo-Niagara Falls, NY had the highest average among ports of entry located along the US-Canada border, followed by Champlain-Rouses Point, NY (2,049). While most inadmissibility determinations are made at ports of entry at airports or the US-Mexico border, FY 2023 differed from previous years in that two ports of entry located at the US-Canada border were among the top ten for inadmissible determinations.

Paroled Migrants by Ports of Entry

As shown in Table 3, airports and other interior locations—not always ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border—appear to be the busiest locations for inadmissibles who are recorded at the port as being paroled into the country. In FY 2023, the top ten busiest ports of entry for parolees consisted entirely of airports and ports relatively far from either the northern or southern borders of the United States. Miami International Airport is the busiest airport for paroled migrants, with an average of 9,216 paroled monthly in FY 2023, followed by another Florida airport, Ft. Lauderdale International Airport, with a monthly average of 5,179 paroled. In third place is John F. Kennedy Airport with on average 3,070 paroled per month.[9]

Table 3. Top Ten U.S. Ports of Entry by Average Number of Paroled Migrants Each Month[10]

Some ports of entry along the U.S.-Canada and U.S.-Mexico borders make the top ten busiest for paroled migrants in FY 2012 and FY 2017, but not in FY 2023. With 95 paroled decisions every month, Buffalo-Niagara Falls, New York was the busiest US-Canada port of entry in FY 2012. In FY 2017, the U.S. Preclearance Area in Vancouver paroled 100 individuals per month, the highest for US ports with Canada that year. At an average of 168 parole decisions a month, the U.S. port at San Ysidro was the busiest for paroled decisions in FY 2012. Laredo, Texas, was the busiest port of entry in FY 2017, with 758 monthly paroled dispositions in FY 2017.

[1]^ The term “inadmissible” has both a broad meaning and a more narrow legal meaning. As a general matter, the data TRAC has received from CBP through FOIA requests for all those people who were not admitted into the country is referred to as data on inadmissibles. However, “inadmissible” also has a second more precise legal meaning which refers to grounds (i.e., ineligibility grounds under 8 USC §1182) that make a person ineligible for entry into the United States whether they have a visa or not. TRAC’s data on inadmissibility adopts the broader use of the term adopted by CBP to refer to people who are not readily admissible rather than the narrower meaning which refers to those immigrants who have been found inadmissible. The distinction here has a range of implications for how these data are interpreted. For instance, asylum seekers who approach a port of entry and lack documentation to be admitted are not necessarily legally inadmissible. In fact, they may be eligible to apply for a visa but, due to exigent circumstance such as political instability or decades-long visa backlogs, have not been able to do so. On the other hand, a person who fits the narrower definition of inadmissible—i.e., a border official has determined that they fall under one of the enumerated inadmissibility grounds—may be refused entry into the country even if that person has a current visa.
[2]^ Parole in the civil immigration context, described above, can be confused with parole in the criminal context, where parole typically refers to the early release from prison. As an immigration control mechanism, parole is not an indication of criminal history.
[3]^ These data are from CBP Office of Field Operations (OFO) which handles border controls at ports of entry. OFO’s disposition categories reflect the final decision made about a person who is seeking to enter the country at a port. These data make a distinction between inadmissibles who were paroled and inadmissibles who were given a Notice to Appear, which puts the person into removal proceedings under the authority of the immigration courts. However, in reality, a person may be issued an NTA and paroled from a port of entry, paroled then issued an NTA later, or issued an NTA and later granted humanitarian parole—in addition to other procedural permutations that are beyond the scope of this analysis.
[4]^ Although this report focuses on parole as an outcome at ports of entry, not all outcomes are positive for immigrants. For instance, immigrants who approach ports of entry may be turned away and ultimately withdraw their request to enter the country or they may be placed in expedited removal proceedings in which the immigrant may be deported without a hearing before an immigration judge.
[5]^ The records included in CBP’s response to TRAC’s FOIA request include the complete fiscal years starting with 2012 and going through the end 2022, as well as records for FY 2023 from October 2022 to the end of July 2023. As TRAC described in a previous report (New Data Sheds Light on What Happens to People Found Inadmissible at U.S. Ports of Entry), for the purposes of analysis, crew members are excluded. The method for excluding crew members in this report varies slightly from the previous report in the following way: instead of excluding inadmissibles identified as crew members upon arrival (what the data calls “inadmissible entry category”), this report excludes inadmissibles who are determined to be crew members by OFO (i.e., “OFO disposition category”). This change is needed since this report examines actual parolees and some people initially identified as crew members ultimately seek and are granted parole.
[6]^ See CBP’s Traveler and Conveyance Statistics dashboard at https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/stats/travel, accessed January 10, 2024. For a historical perspective see parolee numbers from TRAC’s report examining inspection at ports of entry in FY 2005.
[7]^ Average for FY 2023 was based on 10 months of data. See footnote 1.
[8]^ Those eight ports of entry are Miami Int. Airport (94,852 inadmissibles in the first ten months of FY 2023), San Ysidro (78,781), Brownsville (75,230), Hidalgo (55,047), Ft. Lauderdale Intl. Airport (52,608), Buffalo-Niagara Falls (42,015), El Paso (34,768), John F. Kennedy Airport (32,531). The total among these eight is 465,832 out of a total of 544,836.
[9]^ As noted above, these data focus only on cases where CBP reported “paroled” as the final disposition category. At ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border, CBP frequently issues Notices to Appear (NTAs), which places the person in removal proceedings. People who were issued NTAs may have also been paroled into the country, but since CBP’s data turned over to TRAC through FOIA requests treats these as mutually distinct categories, this report is unable to precisely quantify this additional number even though these would substantially add to the totals although the process of handling these two categories after entry is quite different.
[10]^ Some interior US locations labeled here as “Airport Ports of Entry”, such as New Orleans, Louisiana, may include a negligible number of parolees that may have arrived using another form of transit, such as a seaport.
TRAC is a nonpartisan, nonprofit data research center affiliated with the Newhouse School of Public Communications and the Whitman School of Management, both at Syracuse University. For more information, to subscribe, or to donate, contact trac@syr.edu or call 315-443-3563.