Data from the US Border Patrol indicates that the number of Indians apprehended in the US under suspicion of entering the country illegally has increased manifold. From less than 1,000 before 2009-10, the number touched nearly one lakh in 2022-23. During the same period, the total number of foreigners apprehended in the US increased from over 4 lakh persons in 2006-07 to more than 32 lakhs in 2022-23, registering an 8-fold increase.
Nicaragua’s lax border controls and lenient visa policies have made it a popular route for illegal activities, facilitated by agents. Recently, an Indian flight heading to Nicaragua was halted in France due to suspicion of carrying illegal immigrants. On 21 December 2023, a Legend Airlines flight with 303 Indian passengers took off from Dubai. After a brief stop at Vatry airport in France, near Paris, for technical reasons, the flight was prevented from continuing.
This incident highlighted the large number of Indians who go to the US or Canada illegally using what’s called ‘donkey routes’, the premise of the movie, ‘Dunki’ that was also released in December 2023. These ‘donkey routes’ are paths used by migrants to go through countries with loose visa rules to reach their desired destinations, like the US, UK, and Canada. Sometimes, migrants take risky routes, like going through dense forests with wild animals and criminals or crossing rivers in unsafe boats.
In this backdrop, we look at the statistics on the Nationwide Apprehensions of the US Border Patrol, which is part of US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and is responsible for securing the country’s borders, preventing illegal immigration, and stopping the smuggling of illegal goods. Here, apprehensions refer to the act when authorities catch and take people into custody because they suspect them of entering the United States illegally. The data for this story has been taken from Dataful’s collection on – US Border Patrol Nationwide Apprehensions, where data is available by demographic, citizenship, legal basis or authority for processing non-citizens, and the border region.
The data on the number of apprehensions includes those under US Border Patrol (USBP) Title 8, Office of Field Operations (OFO) Title 8 Inadmissible, and Title 42 Expulsions. The expulsions under Title 42 began on 21 March 2020 and were lifted on 11 May 2023.
Title 8 of the US Code contains the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which contains provisions that govern the removal of aliens from the US. The US government, specifically agencies like U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), has the authority to initiate removal proceedings against individuals who are deemed to violate immigration laws. Expulsions or removals can occur for various reasons, including Unauthorized Entry, Visa Violations, Criminal Violations, or Failure to Maintain the Immigration Status.
Meanwhile, Title 42 of the US Code deals with public health and welfare. Provisions of the Act include taking measures to prevent the entry and spread of communicable diseases from foreign countries into the US. The authority provided by the Act was used to temporarily suspend the entry of certain individuals into the country, including those arriving at the US-Mexico and US-Canada borders.
Number of Indians apprehended for trying to enter US illegally has increased manifold.
The data revealed that the number of Indians apprehended in the US under suspicion of entering the country illegally has increased manifold. From less than 1,000 before 2009-10, the number touched nearly one lakh in 2022-23. Between 2012-13 and 2022-23, the number has increased to more than 90 times. Expulsions under Title 42 constituted less than 6% of the total apprehensions between October 2020 and September 2023. This means that the increase in apprehensions was predominantly because of those under Title 8 itself.
During the same period, the total number of foreigners apprehended in the US increased from over 4 lakh persons in 2006-07 to more than 32 lakhs in 2022-23, registering an 8-fold increase. The share of Indians, in the total apprehensions, increased from 0.05% to more than 3% during this period.
Not just India, but China, Brazil, Russia, Canada & Mexico also recorded spike in Apprehensions since 2019-20
Apprehensions of people from China also saw a spike like in India after 2018-19. However, the scale of the increase was not as large as India’s. In 2022-23, the number of people from China apprehended was around 52 thousand. Russia also saw a similar trend. But, from less than 50 persons apprehended annually before the pandemic, the number shot up to more than 57,000 in 2022-23. Similar trends were also recorded in the Philippines, Brazil, and Canada.
US’s neighbour in the South, Mexico recorded a gradual decline in apprehensions between 2006-07 and 2016-17 from more than 8 lakhs to 1.3 lakhs. Nonetheless, since then the apprehensions spiked and went back to the mid to late 2000s levels.
While Honduras and Guatemala recorded similar trends of increasing apprehensions until 2018-19, followed by a dip in 2019-20, and a sudden spike in 2020-21, Venezuela saw a whopping increase from less than 100 until 2016-17 to nearly 3.35 lakhs in 2022-23. In 2022-23, these 3 countries along with Mexico accounted for 47% of the apprehended illegal migrants.
More Indians apprehended in the northern border unlike the overall trend
Traditionally, most of the apprehensions took place in the Southwest Land Border. For instance, in 2022-23, the Southwest border was where more than 77% of the apprehensions took place by the US Border Patrol. The four U.S. states that share this border with Mexico are California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. On the other hand, only about 5% of the total apprehensions by the border force were from the Northern border, where the boundary is shared with Canada, and is one of the longest international borders in the world.
Among the Indians apprehended, except in 2019-20, the southwest border was where a majority of the Indians were caught. However, in 2020-21 and 2021-22, the apprehension of Indians only varied marginally between the two borders, unlike the overall trend.
More Indian minors and Family Units are being apprehended in the recent years
Data by demographic reveals that most Indians who were apprehended are single adults. In figures, 89% of Indians apprehended by the border force between 2019-20 and 2022-23 were single adults as compared to only 69% when total apprehensions are considered. FMUA or Individuals in a Family Unit constituted 25% of the total. A Family Unit is defined as at least one noncitizen minor child and at least one noncitizen adult parent or legal guardian. The share of FMUA of all Indians apprehended has also increased over the years. So is the case with Indian minors apprehended. But there are less proportion of FMUA and minors in the global figures.
Indians entering US legally has also increased
At the same time, the total number of Indians entering the US legally by getting Visa approval has also increased significantly from over 6.5 lakh in 2006-07 to more than 10 lakh in 2016-17 and 2017-18. In the subsequent years, the numbers dropped to less than 5 lakhs in 2019-20 and 2.8 lakhs in 2020-21. In 2021-22, the number yet again increased to 7.6 lakh. It was around the time when the number dropped that the number of Indians apprehended in the US increased. However, in 2021-22, the apprehensions continued to increase even though more Indians entered the country legally.
PEW study observed that Indians constituted the third highest number of unauthorized immigrant population
According to a PEW Research Analysis, the unauthorized immigrant population in the US reached 10.5 million in 2021. This was below the peak of 12.2 million in 2007. It noted that 4.6% of U.S. workers in 2021 were unauthorized immigrants. After Mexico, El Salvador and India were the countries of origin with the largest unauthorized immigrant populations in the US in 2021, and India saw an increase since 2017.
Featured Image: Apprehension of Indians by US Border Patrol