Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie said he is open to a plan to supply financial aid to Israel, Ukraine and other countries, but he would want to see help for the southern border, too.
Christie said in an MSNBC interview Oct. 18 that more resources are necessary to “fix the border problem.”
“The crisis at our southern border is significant. And you know the fact is it’s a complicated issue, as you know,” Christie said. “In the last 11 months, Customs and Border Patrol has averaged 200,000 apprehensions a month, and you know how many beds we have to detain people at the border? 38,000.”
Christie’s numbers are on track, but his statement ignores nuance.
On Oct. 20, the Biden administration released a proposal of almost $106 billion in overall spending, including $61 billion in military aid for Ukraine, $14 billion in military aid to Israel, and $14 billion for U.S. border security.
Word choice makes a difference
To evaluate Christie’s comment, we examined Customs and Border Protection data from October 2022 to August 2023, the latest data available.
Christie used the term “apprehensions,” which happens when immigration officials stop immigrants at the border under immigration law. Using this metric, there were an average of 149,238 apprehensions a month at the southern border from October 2022 to August 2023.
To support Christie’s claim, a campaign spokesperson pointed us to CBP’s “encounters” data, which includes apprehensions and expulsions under a public health policy that expired in May.
From October 2022 to August 2023, there were an average of 200,549 encounters at the southern border, both at and between ports of entry.
Both numbers represent events, not people. For example, one person could try coming into the country multiple times, and each attempt would be recorded.
What is U.S. detention capacity?
Immigrant detention is complicated and can involve multiple agencies. When people are apprehended at the border, Border Patrol agents temporarily take them into custody as they decide on next steps. There’s enough room for about 21,000 people a day, but overcrowding is common.
Border Patrol transfers some people from temporary border facilities to detention centers operated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement across the country.
Historically, there hasn’t been enough detention space for all the migrants who cross the southern border. This kind of congressional funding hasn’t come through in more than 40 years, said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director at the American Immigration Council, an immigrants’ rights advocacy group.
Christie slightly overstated the number of detention beds funded by Congress for fiscal year 2023, which ended in September. It was 34,000. His campaign sent PolitiFact a March article from The New York Times citing this number.
However, the number of detention beds Congress appropriates “is generally a floor, not a ceiling,” Reichlin-Melnick said.
In September, there were 35,289 people in ICE detention.
Not everyone can be detained
There’s merit to Christie’s point that there isn’t enough detention space for every single person apprehended at the border, said Colleen Putzel-Kavanaugh, a policy analyst at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.
But for eight of the 11 months in Christie’s claim, many people encountered were quickly expelled and wouldn’t have been detained.
Also, focusing only on the number of people at the border or detention capacity space “ignores some of the complications or the nuances” of immigration policy, said Putzel-Kavanaugh.
That’s because even if there was enough detention space for 200,000 people, not everyone could be detained.
For example, children traveling alone cannot legally be detained by immigration authorities. Instead, the Office of Refugee Resettlement takes custody of them.
Under the Biden administration, families are also not detained. So if families are allowed to stay in the U.S. to seek asylum, they are often released under an alternative program in which their location is monitored by technology such as GPS, an ankle monitor or facial recognition. About 195,000 people are enrolled in these programs, according to ICE data.
People can be released to wait for their court proceedings without any tracking technology.
The Border Patrol usually decides to transfer people who are going to be quickly removed from the U.S. or who pose a threat to national security into ICE detention, said Putzel-Kavanaugh.
Some people spend a few days in ICE detention as they wait for a repatriation flight. But others can be detained for years as they wait for an immigration judge to hear their cases.
Christie said, “in the last 11 months, Customs and Border Patrol has averaged 200,000 apprehensions a month, and you know how many beds we have to detain people at the border? 38,000.”
Christie’s numbers are slightly exaggerated, but he’s on the right track.
In the past 11 months for which there is data, there were an average of 149,238 apprehensions at the southern border a month. Christie was referring to a broader category of 200,549 encounters, which includes apprehensions and expulsions.
Christie slightly overstated the number of ICE detention beds, which is 34,000.
Christie’s statement requires further context. Historically, Congress has not allocated enough funds to detain every immigrant who crosses the southern border. Not everyone who is stopped at the border can be detained under immigration laws and policies, including children traveling alone.
Christie’s statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information. We rate it Mostly True.