By Samantha Flom
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has encountered 2,999 Chinese nationals at the southern border so far in fiscal year 2023—a 719 percent increase year over year, according to CBP data released on Feb. 10.
The total also exceeds the amount recorded for the entirety of fiscal year 2022 (Oct. 1, 2021, to Sept. 30, 2022), during which 2,176 such encounters were reported.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, CBP encounter data includes illegal immigrants who have been apprehended under Title 8 immigration law, Title 8 “inadmissibles,” and noncitizens processed for expulsion under Title 42.
By this time last year, Border Patrol agents had encountered a total of 366 Chinese nationals at the U.S.–Mexico border.
Nationwide, however, the year-over-year increase in encounters is less dramatic, with the current total for this fiscal year sitting at 10,587 compared to last year’s 9,707. Nonetheless, with national totals increasing month over month since October 2022, the trend has begun to alarm some current and former officials.
“We literally apprehend immigrants from China,” former CBP Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan noted at a Feb. 9 press conference. “Do you think we are getting what their background is before we release them? Of course we’re not.”
News of the trend comes amid heightened tensions between the United States and China after the former discovered and subsequently shot down a Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina earlier this month.
This past weekend, additional unidentified flying objects were sighted over Alaska, Canada, and the Great Lakes region and shot down by the U.S. government.
“The Chinese government is spying from above,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) wrote in a Feb. 9 tweet. “Fentanyl from China is killing Americans in every community. More Chinese nationals are crossing illegally at our southern border. This is why I created the select committee on China—to confront these problems head-on.”
Despite the uptick in Chinese nationals illegally entering the country, CBP Acting Commissioner Troy Miller noted on Feb. 10 that January marked a 42 percent decrease in encounters with illegal immigrants of all nationalities between ports of entry at the southern border.
“The January monthly operational update clearly illustrates that new border enforcement measures are working, with the lowest level of Border Patrol encounters between Ports of Entry since February of 2021,” Miller said in a statement. “Those trends have continued into February, with average encounters of Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans plummeting.”
Total southern border encounters also decreased last month to 156,274, down nearly 40 percent from December’s record high of 251,978.
CBP attributed the decrease to the “success” of the new immigration measures announced by President Joe Biden last month, which included the expansion of a parole program that grants illegal immigrants from Venezuela, Cuba, Haiti, and Nicaragua authorization to work and live in the United States with the sponsorship of a U.S. resident after a background check.
However, others have criticized the program as a means of granting amnesty to illegal immigrants.
“This unlawful amnesty program, which will invite hundreds of thousands of aliens into the U.S. every year, will only make this immigration crisis drastically worse,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said last month.
The Republican, along with 19 other attorneys general, has filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration challenging the legality of the program.