Opinion editor's note: This commentary was submitted on behalf of several people affiliated with the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Their names are listed below.

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In an oft-quoted expression, paraphrasing the 18th-century philosopher Jonathan Swift, "a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes." This expression is particularly apparent in recent political rhetoric weaponizing the situation along our southern border, including the Sept. 2 letter "This can't go on."

The letter writer parrots many of the inaccurate and false statements that have been disseminated by conservative news outlets and politicians over the past 18 months. As experts in the field of immigration law, we wish to correct the record with respect to several points made in the letter.

  • First, the statement that "the border was secure under the previous administration but is now wide open" is categorically false. During the first budgetary year of the Biden administration, fiscal 2022, the annual budget of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) was $13 billion, the same amount set by the Trump administration in fiscal 2021. And in fiscal 2023, CBP's annual budget was increased by the Biden administration to $14.5 billion. The Biden administration also has been required by court order to keep the Trump-era border enforcement policies in place, including the migrant protection protocols (MPP), requiring asylum-seekers to wait out the process in Mexico, and Title 42, a policy of summary expulsion of migrants at the border justified by public health concerns. In other words, the southern border is as secure and closed to migrants under Biden as it was under Trump.
  • Second, the statistic quoted in the letter that "approximately 3 million encounters have occurred at the border since early 2021" is incredibly misleading, because 3 million "encounters" does not equal 3 million people attempting entry. In fact, most of these 3 million encounters are individuals who make multiple entry attempts after being caught by CBP and summarily expelled to Mexico under Title 42. The actual number of individuals who attempted entry in fiscal 2021 and 2022 is likely closer to 400,000 or 500,000 people per year, consistent with historic patterns over the past decade, when border apprehensions have remained at historic lows.
  • Third, while the letter writer expresses concern about cartel violence along the southern border, Trump-era policies continued under the Biden administration, namely Title 42, prevent asylum-seekers from seeking protection at ports of entry and force them to attempt entry under dangerous conditions where they are at the mercy of cartels and smugglers. This often leads to tragic results, like the recent death of 51 migrants who suffocated in a semitrailer truck this past June and the death of eight migrants who drowned while attempting to cross the Rio Grande this past weekend.
  • Fourth, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has sophisticated mechanisms for tracking the small number of asylum-seekers who have been exempt from Title 42 and paroled into the U.S. to pursue their asylum claims. Most asylum-seekers paroled into the U.S. after apprehension at the southern border are placed in alternatives to detention programs, where they are required to regularly check in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and have their location tracked through an ankle monitor or a smartphone. Additionally, recent statistics show that 83% of non-detained immigrants appear for their hearings in immigration court, with the figure jumping to 96% in the case of immigrants represented by a lawyer.
  • Last, on the issue of illegal trafficking of fentanyl into the U.S. from Mexico noted by the letter writer, at present most drugs enter the U.S. in vehicles crossing through lawful ports of entry manned by CBP officers. The letter writer's comments also ignore the role of pharmaceutical companies, like Purdue Pharma owned by the Sackler family, who bear far more responsibility in our country's opiate addiction crisis.

As immigration attorneys, we too are outraged by the situation at the southern border, but not for the factually inaccurate reasons cited in the letter. The truth is that the only crisis at the border is a humanitarian crisis caused by draconian enforcement policies that began with Trump and continue under Biden.

This response was signed by the following people on behalf of the executive committee of the Minnesota-Dakotas chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association: Mirella Ceja-Orozco, chair; Matthew Webster, vice chair; Timothy Sanders Szabo, secretary; Maria Miller, treasurer, and John Medeiros, immediate past chair.