Another Record: Nearly 314,000 Apprehensions, Gotaways at Southern Border in December

By Bethany Blankley (The Center Square)

December was another record month for Border Patrol agents tasked with apprehending foreign nationals illegally entering the U.S. through the southwest border.

Agents apprehended at least 226,050 people and reported at least 87,631 who evaded capture by law enforcement last month. Combined, they total at least 313,681 – an increase from November’s record breaking number of 306,069.

This is after a record number of apprehensions and gotaways were recorded in fiscal 2022 of over 3.3 million.

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The preliminary U.S. Customs and Border Protection data was obtained by The Center Square from a Border Patrol agent and only includes Border Patrol data, not Office of Field Operations data. The official numbers, which include OFO data, once they’re released will be higher, although CBP doesn’t release the gotaway data publicly.

“Gotaways” is the official term used by CBP to describe foreign nationals who enter the U.S. illegally and don’t surrender at ports of entry but intentionally seek to evade capture from law enforcement. Unlawful border crossers directly observed making an unlawful entry, who aren’t apprehended and don’t turn back to Mexico, are defined as gotaways, according to 6 USC 223 code, which agents use to categorize unlawful entrants.

In most months, the Del Rio and Rio Grande Valley sectors in Texas experience the most traffic along the southern border. However, over the last several months, anticipating the end of Title 42, larger groups began entering through the El Paso Sector. This includes the entire state of New Mexico and two counties in far west Texas covering 264 miles of international boundary. December was another record month for this sector.

Title 42 is a Trump-era health enforcement policy that allowed border agents to more quickly expel illegal crossers for fear of spreading COVID-19. The biden administration planned to end Title 42 enforcement in December but was blocked by the courts.

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The December numbers are broken down by BP sector and categories. They include apprehensions, turn backs, non-violations, outstanding, and deceased. The gotaways category refers to those who were detected close to the border and further into the interior of the U.S. The distinction is notable because it shows how many are reported evading capture as they make their way north despite the best efforts of BP agents and local law enforcement attempting to apprehend them.

For example, in the Del Rio Sector of Texas, the 3,130 recorded in the gotaway interior zone would have been identified farther out by law enforcement in the rural counties of Kinney, Edwards, Real and others reporting increased break-ins, shootouts and other crimes committed by gotaways, many miles north of the border.

As of Jan. 3, the preliminary data for December by sector includes:

Big Bend Sector

  • Apprehensions – 1,352
  • Turn backs – 79
  • Gotaways Border Zone (known/recorded) – 890
  • Unclassifiable Detection – 0
  • Gotaways Interior Zone – 159
  • No Violations – 2
  • Deceased – 0
  • Outstanding – 10

Del Rio Sector

  • Apps – 51,497
  • TBs – 170
  • Gotaways Border Zone (known/recorded) – 15,509
  • Unclassifiable Detection – 36
  • Gotaways Interior Zone – 3,130
  • No Violations – 305
  • Deceased – 1
  • Outstanding – 152

El Centro Sector

  • Apps – 10,863
  • TBs – 447
  • Gotaways Border Zone (known/recorded) – 382
  • Unclassifiable Detection – 7
  • Gotaways Interior Zone – 9
  • No Violations – 3
  • Deceased – 0
  • Outstanding – 8

El Paso Sector

  • Apps – 55,766
  • TBs – 3,854
  • Gotaways Border Zone (known/recorded) – 32,302
  • Unclassifiable Detection – 1
  • Gotaways Interior Zone – 330
  • No Violations – 24
  • Deceased – 0
  • Outstanding – 25

Laredo Sector

  • Apps – 3,525
  • TBs – 1,721
  • Gotaways Border Zone (known/recorded) – 1,360
  • Unclassifiable Detection – 18
  • Gotaways Interior Zone – 744
  • No Violations – 72
  • Deceased – 3
  • Outstanding – 0

RGV Sector

  • Apps – 29,471
  • TBs – 2,193
  • Gotaways Border Zone (known/recorded) – 1,696
  • Unclassifiable Detection – 95
  • Gotaways Interior Zone – 1,278
  • No Violations – 189
  • Deceased – 9
  • Outstanding – 0

San Diego Sector

  • Apps – 19,525
  • TBs – 465
  • Gotaways Border Zone (known/recorded) – 6,522
  • Unclassifiable Detection – 12
  • Gotaways Interior Zone – 4,245
  • No Violations – 10
  • Deceased – 0
  • Outstanding – 54

Tucson Sector

  • Apps – 22,889
  • TBs – 660
  • Gotaways Border Zone (known/recorded) – 13,619
  • Unclassifiable Detection – 63
  • Gotaways Interior Zone – 4,262
  • No Violations – 148
  • Deceased – 1
  • Outstanding – 183

Yuma Sector

  • Apps – 31,162
  • TBs – 132
  • Gotaways Border Zone (known/recorded) – 1,117
  • Unclassifiable Detection – 7
  • Gotaways Interior Zone – 77
  • No Violations – 26
  • Deceased – 4
  • Outstanding – 16

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Apprehensions include those in the U.S. illegally who surrender or are caught by BP officers. Turn backs include those who entered illegally but returned to Mexico.

The previous category of “unresolved detection,” now “unclassified detection,” isn’t part of 6 U.S. Code, which classifies how encounters are to be reported. This and the now deleted category of “no arrests” were used as a way to lower the number of gotaways being reported, a BP officer, who talked with The Center Square on the condition of anonymity out of fear for the agent’s job, explained.

The previously deleted category of “no arrests” meant someone “was detected in a non-border zone and their presence didn’t affect Got-Away statistics,” according to the official internal tracking system definition used by agents to record data. “Unclassifiable detection” means the same thing, but the officers, for a range of reasons, couldn’t determine citizenship.

Non-violations are “deemed to have committed no infraction and don’t affect Got-Away statistics,” according to the tracking system definition. The categories of non-violations, no arrests and unclassifiable detection should actually be categorized as got-aways, the BP officer said, assuming all non-arrests were of non-citizens. However, each sector also uses unclassified detection differently, the officer added, so how the numbers are categorized isn’t actually uniform.

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If the categories of unclassified detection and non-violations were included with the gotaway numbers, the total number of gotaways for December would be closer to 88,649.

However, these numbers still don’t represent the real picture, those in law enforcement have explained to The Center Square, because they don’t include those who are unknown and unrecorded. Not all gotaways are recorded because the agents and law enforcement officers on the ground don’t spot them all, meaning the number of those entering the U.S. illegally is expected to be much greater than is reported.

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