Over 2M Migrants Came to the Border in 2021, 565K More Than the Past Two Years Combined

On Monday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) released its migrant encounter figure for December, reporting that authorities confronted almost 179,000 people at the U.S.-Mexico border during the month. That takes the total to over 2 million for 2021.

This figure represents a historic high, with the total outnumbering the combined number of crossings reported over the past two years by over 565,000, according to CBP data.

In 2019, before border crossings dropped with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, nearly 922,000 people were encountered by border authorities, meaning encounters were up that year by 121 percent. In 2020, CBP encountered almost 548,000 migrants, and there was a 272 percent increase between then and 2021.

While the legal channels for migrants to enter the United States remain largely unavailable because of the ongoing Title 42 public health order that restricts border entry into the U.S. and limits avenues for seeking asylum, migrant flows have remained constant throughout the past year.

When President Joe Biden took office last January, over 78,000 encounters were reported by authorities. By July, following months of steady increases, a monthly high of nearly 214,000 crossings was reported. From there, the month-to-month encounters started to taper off until November, when encounters jumped to nearly 175,000, up from the almost 165,000 seen in October.

Authorities confronted almost 179,000 people at the U.S.-Mexico border during December. Above, migrants in a caravan to the U.S. walk toward Mexico City to request asylum and refugee status on October 27, 2021. Photo by ISAAC GUZMAN/AFP via Getty Images

A joint report issued last November by the Migration Policy Institute, the United Nations World Food Program and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Civic Data Design Lab points to various reasons behind the increased number of crossings seen during Biden's first year in office.

At the center of the ongoing crisis is the coronavirus pandemic, the report says, which worsened the social problems that El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and parts of Mexico—the four places where most migrants come from—have faced for years. These problems include economic instability, gang violence and environmental devastation brought on by climate change.

Most migrants interviewed tended to cite economic reasons as the primary motivation for leaving their country, with the report saying that these migrants often face "insufficient income to cover basic necessities." While economic concerns were the most cited reason for migration, the report also noted that gang violence and environmental devastation have a significant impact on someone's ability to earn, adding that the three issues are often linked together.

While the Biden administration has faced stiff criticism from both the left and right for its inability to curb the number of migrant encounters, the administration has made addressing economic concerns in Latin America a priority.

Vice President Kamala Harris has led an effort to secure $1.2 billion worth of investment commitments from the private sector to address the reasons behind migration by promoting economic opportunity. Companies including Mastercard, PepsiCo and Microsoft announced they would support efforts to create jobs and build skills in Central America.

"The United States has an important role to play in addressing the root causes of migration," Harris said during a December address regarding the investment strategy. "At the same time, our government cannot do its work alone."