When Gov. Greg Abbott
announced in May that his office will build a wall at the Texas-Mexico
border — and again on Wednesday when he visited the border with former
President Donald Trump — he said a rising number of apprehensions by
Border Patrol agents and seizures of the drug fentanyl made building a
state-funded border wall necessary.
In May, Abbott
said that in the first four months of this year, the Texas Department of
Public Safety saw a significant increase in fentanyl seizures compared
with 2020. After having no fentanyl seizures in 2017, 2018 and 2019,
Abbott said, DPS seized 52 grams in 2020. So far this year, troopers
have already seized 137 grams, he said.
In a disaster
declaration in June, the governor said, “President Biden's open-border
policies have paved the way for dangerous gangs and cartels, human
traffickers, and deadly drugs like fentanyl to pour into our
But immigration and
drug treatment experts say the governor and the former president have
oversimplified and mischaracterized the numbers on apprehensions and
“The idea that
the border was somehow quiet before President Biden took office is
completely false,” said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, an analyst with the
American Immigration Council, a Washington, D.C., group that advocates
Abbott’s office did not respond to a request for comment late Thursday.
said that apprehensions of migrants and fentanyl seizures also spiked
during the Trump administration. During Trump’s administration, migrant
apprehensions rose to 150,000 at the border in one month in 2019. The
highest total so far under the Biden administration was last month, with
He added that
increased apprehensions of both migrants and drugs is a sign that the
border is more secure now than 20 years ago, when there were fewer
border agents and less sophisticated technology protecting the border.
that’s a point that someone who is pro-border wall does not like to talk
about,” he said. “If you want the border to be more secure, you want
the Border Patrol to apprehend more people coming across the border.”
an associate policy analyst with the Migration Policy Institute, a
nonpartisan think tank, said that currently the immigration debate
centers on overall apprehension numbers and doesn’t take into account
two other important measures: many migrants are apprehended repeatedly,
which means that the number of apprehensions doesn’t reflect the true
number of individuals attempting to cross the border.
“There is a
higher level of migration activity at the border that we haven’t seen in
20 years,” she said. “But at the same time, we are also seeing an
increase in repeat crossers, and the apprehension number does not
account for unique individuals.”
apprehensions have been repeat crossers who were expelled from the U.S.
side of the border under Title 42, which allows immigration agents to
send migrants back to the Mexican side rather than arrest them.
said that in fiscal 2019, of unique individuals who crossed the border,
6.7% were repeat crossers. In fiscal 2020, that number went up to 26%.
And in fiscal 2021, so far, 40% of apprehended migrants have crossed the
border at least twice.
Bolter said building a
wall will not stop illegal immigration, but will instead force migrants
to attempt crossing in more remote — and often more dangerous — areas.
tone on immigration — and his overturning of most of Trump’s hard-line
immigration policies — may have encouraged some people to try to enter
the U.S. illegally, Bolter said. But the biggest motivator is dire
situations in Central America, such as gang violence, government
corruption, climate change that has deteriorated crops in many areas and
the pandemic’s effect on their countries’ economies, she said.
“Based on the history
of border walls, what we’ve learned is that walls don’t stop illegal
immigration, it just tends to be diverted to other areas,” she said.
According to the
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s 2020 National Drug Threat
Assessment, fentanyl seizures have been increasing along the southwest
border since at least the 2016 fiscal year. Between 2018 and 2019, when
Trump was president, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported a 62%
increase in fentanyl seizures along the southwest border — from 745
kilograms to 1,208 kilograms.
Ciccarone, a professor of family community medicine at the University of
California at San Francisco, said that fentanyl is mostly seized at
ports of entry and in some cases through the U.S. Postal Service.
“So the wall is
useless,” he said, adding that the U.S. “spends a lot of money trying to
stop the flow of drugs” and while “it’s not a complete waste of money,
it doesn’t work as well as we’d like to.”