Debbie Lesko Ridiculed for Saying 1 Billion Migrants Apprehended at Border

Arizona's Republican Congresswoman Debbie Lesko said on Twitter that Border Patrol agents had arrested a billion people at the U.S.-Mexico border over the past six months—wrongly adding three zeros to the correct number of a million people.

Citing a piece from the Wall Street Journal (which clearly states in its headline that one million people were arrested at the southern border), Lesko mentions the arrests as a clear sign that "President Biden's open border policies are fueling this crisis!," although she does so by quoting a made-up number of apprehended migrants.

According to new data released by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on Monday, border crossings are at their highest levels in the last two decades. The numbers are expected to grow with the lifting of pandemic-era border policy on May 23, which had originally been implemented by former President Donald Trump.

Under Title 42, border agents can turn away most migrants, including asylum seekers. According to the CBP, out of a total of 221,303 migrants stopped by Border Patrol at the southern border, half were processed for expulsion under Title 42.

Since October, Border Patrol agents have arrested more than one million people. In March alone, the number of people arrested while attempting to illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border was 209,906, while 11,397 migrants were allowed into the country.

Migrants US Mexico border
A woman who was apprehended crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, speaks to a United States Border Patrol agent from the back of a transport van in Sunland Park, New Mexico, on July 22, 2021. Congresswoman Debbie Lesko mistakenly reported that border patrol agents have arrested over a billion people in the past six months. PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty Images

The numbers don't necessarily reflect a higher number of individuals attempting to cross the border, the CBP said. Some 28 percent of the people stopped at the border in March had already attempted to cross into the U.S. in the previous 12 months at least once.

According to the report, Mexicans make up the largest group by nationality crossing the border. There was a rise in the number of migrants from Cuba and Ukraine, with 32,271 Cubans crossing the southern border illegally in March and 79,377 this year until the latest data recorded.

The number of Ukrainian migrants was much lower, but statistically higher than before this year. Almost 5,000 Ukrainians have been allowed into the U.S. on a temporary basis to offer relief to the citizens of the war-torn country.

While the number of migrant crossings this year is at a record high, it was definitely not as impossibly high as Lesko made it out to be.

Social media users immediately picked up on the mistake.

"Dear Congresswoman Lesko, this is how big the number 1 billion is. There are not enough hours in the day or law enforcement officers of any kind anywhere to apprehend that many people," replied one user.

"You honestly believe that nearly 13 percent of the world's entire population attempted to cross the border between Mexico and the United States in a six-month period?" wrote journalist David Lytle.

"Border Patrol successfully stopped 10 times the population of Mexico from crossing the border, which means we must close our border to prevent crossings that already aren't happening by the billions!" wrote another user.

Other users ironically complimented Border Patrol agents for their "phenomenal" work or highlighted that Biden can't have an "open border policy" if people are being detained at the border at the same time.

Lesko didn't delete or correct the tweet despite the backlash.

In an earlier tweet, she talked again about Biden's alleged "open border policies," claiming that they attracted "criminals" as well as "illicit substances that have resulted in over 100,000 drug-related deaths."

The tweet was likely referring to a report by the CBP saying that Border Patrol agents intercepted four narcotic smuggling attempts that included marijuana and cocaine.

Lesko often talks about the situation at the southern border using the hashtag #BidenBorderCrisis.

Plans for the Border

On April 8, Lesko was among the 62 co-signers of a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas "seeking answers on the Administration's plans to secure the border and support Customs and Border Protection (CBP) after the Title 42 policy is lifted."

The letter asks the Biden administration to answer five questions that mostly revolve around COVID and health safety.

The Biden administration announced the end of the controversial pandemic-era border policy, introduced in March 2020, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying that it "is no longer necessary" to protect public health.

From its introduction until now, over 2 million migrants have been expelled under Title 42.

The Department of Homeland Security said that COVID mitigation protocols will be put in place in May when the old policy terminates, including a scaling up of the vaccination program for migrants.

Newsweek has reached out to Lesko for comment.

US Mexico border Migrants
Migrants caught crossing the US-Mexico border are loaded into a transport van by US Border Patrol agents in Sunland Park, New Mexico on July 22, 2021. Border patrol agents arrested over one million people trying to cross the southern border in the past six months. PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty Images

Update 04/20/22, 5:05 a.m. ET. This article was updated to change an image.