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Breaking down numbers behind US-Canadian border encounters

The Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge connects southern Ontario to northern Michigan.
Richard McDonald
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
The Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge connects southern Ontario to northern Michigan.

Migrant encounters along the U.S. border with Canada are on the rise. The uptick has motivated members of Congress, including some from Michigan, to form what they call the Northern Board Security Caucus. WCMU News Director Amy Robison sat down with Rick Brewer to break down the rise in encounters across the country and here in Michigan.

Editor's note: This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Amy Robinson: So Rick, tell us about the Northern Border Security Caucus.

Rick Brewer: This is a group of members of the House of Representatives, made up of mostly Republicans at this point. Michigan Congressman Jack Bergman of the upper peninsula is part of it, along with Lisa McClain, she represents the Thumb. And the primary motive here is to advocate for more policies around the US-Canadian border. To provide border patrol with more resources. It's not exactly clear on what the policy changes might be at this point. But they've just announced that they're going to be advocating for more resources there because of what they say is a significant rise in human trafficking and drug trafficking across the northern border.

AR: So, let's dive a little into that data. What do the numbers say?

RB: So, the data pretty much everyone's looking at comes from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency. And I want to play a clip for you from a recent press conference where Congresswoman McClain spoke. And I want to preface this tape with this. During the press conference, McClain said "we [that's the state of Michigan] have a northern border crisis into Canada." Here's more of what she had to say about the U.S. northern border as a whole.

Congressman Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet, represents Michigan's first congressional district.
Eric Connolly
U.S. House Office of Photography
Congressman Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet, represents Michigan's first congressional district.

Congresswoman Lisa McClain: Since October of 22. We've seen 55,736 migrant encounters at the northern border. 55,000. That's nearly as many as in 2020 and 2021 combined.

RB: And this statistic she is citing, Amy, is correct after we looked through the data.

AR: So, tell us more about these 55,000 migrant encounters at the northern border. Where are they happening?

RB: These 55,000 encounters come from both the U.S. Border Patrol and the Office of Field Operations within this agency.

AR: What are field operations?

RB: So, field operations is more like points of entry. Think the Sault Ste. Marie bridge or customs at an airport. So, if someone doesn't have the right paperwork to enter the state of Michigan, maybe they forgot their passport, they're considered not admissible to the U.S. and they might be turned away. That is considered an encounter. That's what Border Protection told me over the phone. Border Patrol agents are the people you've probably seen on TV with green outfits, they patrol remote areas to see if people are crossing illegally.

AR: So, we don't like to talk too much about numbers in radio. But in this story, we really have to it sounds like the 55,000 number includes some really disparate encounters. So, break it down for us.

Courtesy of Congresswoman McClain's office.
Congresswoman Lisa McClain, R-Bruce, represents Michigan's ninth congressional district.

RB: Well, 53,000 encounters happened within the Office of Field Operations. So, that could be places like the international bridge, or the airport where people were simply turned away, or maybe they were doing illegal things, we don't have an exact breakdown. And when you isolate the data for just the U.S. Border Patrol, there have been more than 2,200 encounters reported in just the first four months of fiscal-year 2023. And that's just 11 encounters behind the entirety of 2022.

AR: What about encounters in Michigan?

RB: For 2021, it was just 18 encounters by the U.S. Border Patrol. In 2022, that number was 80. And already for the first four months of fiscal-year 2023 that number is at 88 people in the state of Michigan. Now shifting to looking at the Office of Field Operations. For all of 2022 it was over 7,000 people. And we're already at 3,800 people for the first four months of fiscal-year 2023.

AR: So, Rick, what is next for this Northern Border Security Caucus?

RB: We simply have to wait and see at this point, Amy. We need to see if the House of Representatives is going to put forth any bills to change any policies surrounding our northern border. I do you know that the U.S. Border Patrol they are sending 25 additional agents to the northeast of the United States. That's places like Vermont and New Hampshire, because illegal crossings in forests and remote areas is on the rise in that part of the country.

AR: Rick Brewer, thanks for joining me today.

RB: Thank you, Amy.

Rick Brewer has been news director at WCMU since February 2024.