Growing Numbers of Children Try To Enter the U.S.
(28 Jun 2022) New data obtained by TRAC from U.S. Border Patrol (BP) reveals a detailed portrait of the enormous growth in children encountered by BP officers at the US-Mexico border over the past fifteen years. Since FY 2008 there has been a seventeen-fold rise in the numbers of BP apprehensions who are unaccompanied children. With rising overall apprehensions, this represents a striking eight-fold increase just between FY 2008 and FY 2019 in the proportion of all apprehensions who are unaccompanied children. There has also been a striking five-fold rise in all children when both unaccompanied and accompanied children are considered.

For the first time, newly released case-by-case detailed data on over 6.5 million Border Patrol apprehensions allow the public to take an in-depth look at these underappreciated long-term trends into who BP apprehends and how these individuals are processed. These valuable data were very recently received and analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University. TRAC secured access after a decade-long effort involving more than a hundred separate Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

Generally, available case-by-case data show that for many years children (0-17 years of age) made up relatively small numbers of Border Patrol apprehensions. Combining both unaccompanied juveniles with children arriving as part of a family group, monthly numbers from October 2007 (when available age-specific data begin) through FY 2012 were usually well under 5,000 per month. Unaccompanied children were a relatively small component, typically between 1,000 and 1,500 per month.

October 2013 was the first month Border Patrol apprehensions of children exceeded the 5,000 mark. In February 2014 the 12-month average rose above 5,000 and signified the initial first large group of children that arrived at the southwest border. This large group posed many challenges for the Obama administration and figured prominently in public policy debates during that time.

While there are sharp peaks and valleys in month-to-month trends, annual numbers for children apprehended unlawfully crossing the border did not fall back to earlier levels. Instead, the numbers of children coming alone or in families have generally risen despite changes in presidential administrations.

This new trove of detailed data available through TRAC's free web query tool also allows us to examine other characteristics of these children including the marked shift in the countries from which these children come.

With the termination of Title 42, the fate of MPP 2.0, and the future of other policies now before the federal courts, understanding who is arriving at the US-Mexico border is of heightened public interest and concern. The number and fate of children who have become a more and more substantial proportion of arriving individuals should be a central consideration in what the country's policies and practices should be.

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