Border Patrol Apprehensions of Undocumented Immigrants Fell by Almost Half from March to April

The number of undocumented immigrants apprehended crossing the border between the U.S. and Mexico dropped by nearly half between March and April amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Pew Research reported on the steep decline on Tuesday, citing federal data. In April, U.S. Border Patrol agents deported or detained 15,862 undocumented migrants, a decline of 47 percent from March. That represents the biggest dip since 2000 and the first time the number of migrants detained by agents at the border dropped below 20,000 since 2017.

The April data also showed a dramatic decrease (84 percent) from a year ago, when border agents apprehended or returned nearly 100,000 migrants in the same month of 2019.

U.S.-Mexico Border
A migrant carrying a toddler stands in front of the border wall that divides Sunland Park, New Mexico from Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua in Mexico on March 14. The April data also showed an 84 percent decrease from a year ago, when border agents apprehended or returned nearly 100,000 migrants in the same month of 2019. HERIKA MARTINEZ/AFP/Getty

"In order to protect Americans to the greatest extent possible from the threat of the novel coronavirus, CBP is implementing the Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authority to quickly prevent the entry of aliens who would otherwise be introduced into a congregate setting in a land port of entry or Border Patrol station—thereby reducing outbreak risk to other migrants, CBP personnel and the American public," Matthew Dyman, a public affairs specialist for
Customs and Border Protection, told Newsweek in an email.

Amid the ongoing pandemic, Mexico and Central American nations, where the bulk of undocumented migrants at the southwestern border come from, have shuttered their borders to nonessential travel. Mexico and the U.S. have restricted nonessential travel across their shared border since March. Meanwhile, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador have more or less closed their borders entirely to curb the spread of the virus.

In March, Trump also issued a controversial executive order which gave border agents the greenlight to quickly removed undocumented migrants crossing the border. The president's order cited health concerns, but immigrant advocates argued that the White House was using the pandemic to push forward hard-line immigration policies. Immigrants are now being deported quickly to either their home countries or the last country where they were before entering the U.S.

"The administration has weaponized an arcane provision of a quarantine law first enacted in 1893 and revised in 1944 to order the blanket deportation of asylum-seekers and unaccompanied minors at the Mexican border without any testing or finding of disease or contagion," Lucas Guttentag, a former senior counselor at the Department of Homeland Security, and Stefano Bertozzi, dean emeritus of the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley, explained in an opinion article for The New York Times last week.

"Legal rights to hearings, appeals, asylum screening and the child-specific procedures are all ignored," they wrote.

The Pew Research report also highlights that apprehensions and deportations of undocumented migrants were already decreasing ahead of the new coronavirus pandemic. From October 2019 through April 2020, the overall number was down by about 55 percent compared with the same period a year prior.

This article has been updated with a statement from a CBP spokesperson.