"A lot of reporting about the southern border has sort of used terms like a surge or a crisis, and the data don't really reflect that," said Dr. Tom Wong, associate professor of political science and director of U.S. immigration policy center at UCSD.
"When winter ends and the weather begins to warm, we see an increase of undocumented immigration at the southern border which leads to increases in apprehensions by Customs and Border Protection," added Dr. Wong.
According to CBP data, overall border encounters in 2019 increased 31% from January to February and 28% for the same period this year. Wong says we can expect more increases until we reach the summer heat.
In May 2019, encounters at the southwest border peaked at more than 144,000. In February of this year, they reached over 100,000.
There has been a larger increase of encounters with unaccompanied minors. From January to February of 2019, there was a 31% increase versus 61% this year.
It's important to note, for the most part, the U.S. is only processing asylum claims of unaccompanied minors. The vast majority of adults and families are turned away under a U.S. code implemented by the last administration citing COVID-19 concerns, which remains in place.
"Because smugglers can charge up to $10,000 for each child and because they're selling the hope that that child can be admitted into the U.S., that likely is leading many parents to say this is their best opportunity for their kids to enter the United States," said Dr. Wong.
Migrant family stuck at border in Tijuana details harrowing violence in homeland
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas recently said "we are on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years."
Mayorkas has pointed to poverty and high levels of violence as some causes for migration. He has also pointed out that the last administration cut aid that addresses the root causes in many of these countries, and completely dismantled the asylum system and closed facilities. In turn, they're now having to rebuild the entire system.
"One of the dangers of using phrases like 'crisis' to describe what is happening at the southern border is that what the policy response tends to be, is more resources, more personnel, more border security efforts, when what we really have is a humanitarian issue that needs to be addressed," said Dr. Wong.
Migrants encamped in Tijuana detail their stories as they seek asylum in U.S.