New Details on Border Patrol Arrests

Newly released case-by-case data on Border Patrol apprehensions, current through April 2018, allow a first-time, in-depth look at many aspects of what has been happening along the southwest border.

These arrest-by-arrest internal Border Patrol records track when and where individuals, including families and unaccompanied children, were picked up by the Border Patrol and how their individual cases have been handled. Data on who was referred for criminal prosecution is also included. While individual records on each adult and child were released, some vital questions - including which children have been separated from their parents - cannot yet be answered as the agency claims that much additional information sought was not found in a search of their internal database.

These Border Patrol records cover the period from October 2014 through April 2018 and were obtained after a lengthy FOIA campaign by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University[1]. Access to further details compiled by TRAC are provided through a free web application that has just been developed and accompanies this report.

Following are selected highlights from this latest data.

Border Patrol Arrests of Families and Children Are Lower. While there is a distinct month-to-month seasonality in the number of families and unaccompanied children picked up by the Border Patrol attempting to enter the country between official ports of entry, there is nothing particularly unusual about the number that have been arrested so far this year.

Because the age of each individual is recorded in these detailed data, it is now possible to separately track the number of adults arriving with children over the past three and a half years. While numbers have increased in recent months, they are far from reaching record levels. A time series graph displaying the number of adults arriving with children is shown in Figure 1.

In fact, the number of adults apprehended with children so far during FY 2018 (23,162) is still 14.5 percent lower than the number of adults arrested with children during the same seven-month period in FY 2017 (27,080). The number of unaccompanied children arrested by the Border Patrol this year is also down as compared with the same period during FY 2017.

Further, in April 2018, the same month that Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the "zero tolerance" enforcement policy in response to the alleged crisis on the border, there were a total of 4,537 adults arriving with children, a relatively small number compared to the 24,876 adults arrested without children that same month.

Figure 1. Number of Adults Arriving with Children
(Click for larger image)

Most Persons Arrested Quickly Deported. Under existing law, most adults arrested by the Border Patrol are quickly deported through a procedure known as "expedited removal." Alternatively, if they had been previously removed, their prior removal order is "reinstated" by DHS and they are also summarily deported. For example, these data indicate that already 20,846 out of the 24,876 adults arriving without children had been quickly deported - either through expedited removal or reinstatement of removal[2]. This was not at all unusual. Roughly five out of every six adults arriving without children were summarily deported throughout the entire three and half year period covered by these data.

While some adults arriving alone seek asylum, a much larger proportion of those arriving with children left their home countries because they feared for their lives and were seeking refuge in this country. However, despite this fact, many adults arriving with children also end up quickly deported. A total of 1,060 out of the 4,537 adults arrested in April 2018 with children already had been deported.

A fewer number, only 851 children out of the 5,144 arrested as part of these family units during April, in contrast have been deported. Thus, several hundred parents appear to have been deported without their children in April alone

How Old Are Children Arrested by the Border Patrol? Few unaccompanied children arrive who are very young, although a small number are brought by older siblings. So far this fiscal year, only 3 percent of unaccompanied children arrested by the Border Patrol were 3 or younger. The majority were 16 or 17 years of age, with 26.8 percent who were 16 and 37.4 percent who were 17.

In sharp contrast, children arriving as part of a family unit tended to be quite young. As of April 2018, over half (51.2%) of the children arrested with parents this fiscal year were only 7 years of age or younger. Nearly a quarter (22.9%) were three or younger. Only 5 percent were as old as 17.

Criminal Prosecutions. Criminal prosecutions of parents arrested with children have been extremely rare in the past. Even after April 6, 2018 when the Attorney General announced a new zero-tolerance policy for criminal illegal entry and the Administration explained that separation of children from parents was necessitated due to the criminal prosecution of their parents, these data indicate little change occurred. Indeed, the data show that only one adult member of a family unit was actually referred for criminal prosecution during all of April 2018!

Border Patrol records don't appear to undercount the actual number of criminal referrals that have taken place[3]. At least since October of 2016, criminal referrals month-by-month from the Border Patrol recorded in these data roughly correspond with - indeed sometimes exceed -- the number independently recorded by federal prosecutors as having been received each month from Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

However a larger number of family separations reportedly occurred during this period. If this was true, and if these Border Patrol records are accurate, it would appear most separations through at least April of this year took place for entirely different reasons than the rationale the Administration has given. This is also indicated by the deportation figures of those arrested, mentioned above, revealing that several hundred parents were deported apparently without their children during April of this year alone.

More Details Now Available. The free on-line web query tool accompanying this report provide further details on more than a dozen different factors. Data for each sector covering both the southern and northern border is included. In addition to recording when and where the arrest occurred, information on the age, gender, citizenship, marital status, and length of time in the U.S. for each person is covered. Also recorded for each Border Patrol sector is whether the individual was picked up at the border or further away from the border, including through the use of a traffic stop or by checking passengers in buses and trains traveling within 100 miles of the border.

Data on a number of special Border Patrol initiatives are also provided in this new web app. These Border Patrol initiatives include those referring cases for criminal prosecution (such as Operation Streamline and its more recent Criminal Consequence Initiative), the agency's Operation Against Smugglers Initiative on Safety and Security (OASISS), and its Alien Transfer Exit Program (ATEP).


[1] Data for 2 months (August-September 2017) out of this 43-month period has still not yet been received.

[2] Most of the remaining persons - although subject to expedited removal or reinstatement of removal - were placed under a "credible fear" or "reasonable fear" of persecution category which appears to signify that they were still undergoing additional screening on the basis of their asylum claims. In addition, nearly three hundred of the remaining individuals had voluntarily agreed to return to their home countries.

[3] There are some deficiencies evident in these data. For example, a small number of children including some as young as 2 years old were recorded as referred for criminal prosecution. Also, no criminal referrals for misdemeanors, in contrast to felony referrals, were recorded by the Border Patrol during all of FY 2016. Yet federal prosecutors record continuing to receive thousands of these from the CBP.

TRAC is a nonpartisan, nonprofit data research center affiliated with the Newhouse School of Public Communications and the Whitman School of Management, both at Syracuse University. For more information, to subscribe, or to donate, contact or call 315-443-3563.