WaPo Blog Authors Stand By Their ‘Predictable Pattern’ Border Claim Despite Record Numbers

Asylum seeking migrants from Central America await transport after crossing the Rio Grande river into the United States in Texas, March 12, 2021. (Adrees Latif/Reuters)

The authors of a Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog post arguing that “the migrant ‘surge’ at the U.S. southern border is actually a predictable pattern” stand by their argument — despite new data showing the Biden administration apprehended 171,000 migrants in March, the highest monthly total in at least 15 years.

Tom K. Wong, Gabriel De Roche, and Jesus Rojas Venzor — the authors of the March Monkey Cage post — argued that, contra claims about Biden’s impact on border activity, the spike in illegal crossings “fits a pattern of seasonal changes in undocumented immigration combined with a backlog of demand.” They focus on data through February and say they “found no clear evidence that the overall increase in border crossings in 2021 can be attributed to Biden administration policies.”

The authors, who all work and study at the University of California at San Diego, cited data showing the cumulative number of monthly apprehensions from fiscal year 2012 to fiscal year 2020. The chart shows a sharp increase from January through May, followed by a drop-off.

“What we’re seeing right now is a predictable seasonal shift. When the numbers drop again in June and July, policymakers may be tempted to claim that their deterrence policies succeeded. But that will just be the usual seasonal drop,” they argued.

Wong, De Roche, and Venzor concluded their piece with a warning that “focusing on month-to-month differences in apprehensions is misleading; given seasonal patterns, each month should be considered in relation to the same month in previous years.”

Biden appeared to echo that line of argumentation in his first presidential press conference, saying, “The truth of the matter is nothing has changed. It happens every single, solitary year: There is a significant increase in the number of people coming to the border in the winter months of January, February, March. That happens every year.”

Nick Miroff, an immigration reporter for the Washington Post, appeared to dismiss this line of reasoning on Twitter.

Last week, the Post reported that March CBP data shows “the number of migrants crossing into the United States has skyrocketed to the highest levels in at least 15 years, and record numbers of teenagers and children arriving without parents.”

The CBP statistics show that more than twice as many illegal border crossings occurred in Biden’s first two months in office than occurred during the most active two-month stretch in 2019, and show “a more vertical growth curve than any comparable span over the past two decades,” the paper reported.

So do Wong, De Roche, and Venzor think their argument stands up to the March numbers?

“Yes, the March numbers are still consistent with seasonal trends, as the upward climb will likely last until May, as mentioned in the article,” Wong told National Review in an email. Wong explained that comparing March 2021 numbers to that of March 2019 shows that “the level change is also very close to the FY 2019 data + the delta between FY 2020 and FY 2019.”

“I wonder, however, how the shift to ‘encounters’ may be affecting the data,” he continued.

Wong’s reference to “encounters” stems from the Trump-era “Title 42” policy which was instituted in March 2020 in order to immediately turn back migrants during the COVID-19 pandemic. One apparent by-product of the rule — which Biden exempted migrant children from — was an increase in the recidivism rate, or the number of people trying to cross the border illegally, failing, and then trying again.

But under the Biden administration, there has also been a major spike of nearly 1,000 daily “got aways” — individuals who illegally cross the border without being identified or apprehended — as CBP is stretched thin addressing the surge in unaccompanied minors.

Wong, De Roche, and Venzor’s piece was originally headlined “There’s no migrant ‘surge’ at the U.S. southern border. Here’s the data.” It was later updated with two paragraphs to address the surge in unaccompanied minors traveling to the southern border. In the revision, the authors admitted that the phenomenon “appears to be more than just a seasonal pattern,” but added, “Have Biden administration policies caused this increase? There is no evidence to suggest that this is the case.”

“So have Biden administration policies caused a crisis at the southern border? Evidence suggests not,” the article concluded. “The Trump administration oversaw a record in apprehensions in fiscal year 2019, before the pandemic shut the border. This year looks like the usual seasonal increase, plus migrants who would have come last year but could not.”

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