Revisiting that Monkey Cage piece about seasonal migration and the border crisis (Update)

Revisiting that Monkey Cage piece about seasonal migration and the border crisis (Update)

About two weeks ago, the Washington Post published an analysis of the border crisis with the provocative and misleading headline, “There’s no migrant ‘surge’ at the U.S. southern border. Here’s the data.” After the authors were called out by the Post’s own immigration reporter, the piece was revised significantly. In addition to a softer headline, “The migrant ‘surge’ at the U.S. southern border is actually a predictable pattern,” the revised piece added an entirely new section which admitted what the previous draft had curiously overlooked:

What about unaccompanied minors?

What is more unusual at this moment is the increase in border crossings by unaccompanied minors, which appears to be more than just a seasonal pattern. This poses a more distinctive challenge for the Biden administration, although it is also possible that there will be a similar drop in crossings by minors during the summer months.

As I pointed out at the time, it was very odd that the Monkey Cage piece overlooked the surge in unaccompanied minors since that was really the thing people were concerned about. If you’re going to write a piece saying there’s no surge at the border, at least look at the thing people are calling a surge at the border rather than trying to change the subject. When they did finally do that in the revised piece the authors admitted…this doesn’t look like normal seasonal fluctuation. In fact, it looks like the surge/crisis everyone is talking about.

Today CBP added the March numbers to their historical chart of the past four years of border apprehensions. When you select for just the number of Unaccompanied Minors (UACs) you get this dramatic graph showing the record we just set this month (the blue line). The orange line is 2019, the last time we had a similar crisis. As you can see, we’ve blown past that previous peak by a lot.

This chart is even more stark than the chart of overall apprehensions which Allahpundit wrote about this morning. So have the authors of the Monkey Cage piece commented about this? Not so far. Tom Wong, the lead author still has this as his pinned tweet:

Wong hasn’t tweeted anything new in light of the new (but predicted) data. His co-author has the same pinned tweet. He added a follow-up when President Biden cited that data on March 25.

As noted above, the authors did correct for the fact that the arrival of minors was clearly a non-seasonal surge after they were called out by the Post’s own immigration reporter. I wonder if they’ll say the same about the overall numbers now that we’ve set a two-decade record? Perhaps they are working on a follow-up.

The real problem with their analysis is the glaringly obvious one: They attempted to redefine “crisis” in a way that makes no sense. A crisis of the sort we’re talking about happens when available resources are not enough to meet demand, i.e. too many migrant kids, not enough beds. So if the system is set up for the average annual demand but you have seasonal peaks that regularly surpass that, you can in fact have a crisis every spring. And if you look back, you’ll see we have had several surges in the past decade (2014, 2019, and now) all of which were judged to be a crisis by everyone involved at the time they happened. They were all seasonal and they were all crises.

Ultimately, saying there is no crisis because this has happened before is just meaningless. Hurricanes are a regular fact of life in Florida. Their arrival is seasonal and yet, they can present a real crisis on occasion. So long as we’re turning convention centers into housing for a surge of thousands of teen migrants, it’s pretty silly to argue this isn’t a crisis. I think that point is obvious to everyone except the authors of that Monkey Cage piece. 

Update: The Post’s fact-checker states the obvious. It’s too bad he didn’t fact-check the Monkey Cage piece two weeks ago.

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David Strom 5:21 PM on March 31, 2023