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Immigration remains a hot-button issue in the United States, with border recidivism being a key aspect of policy debates. Recidivism has risen in recent years, and reports cite Title 42’s lack of penalties for illegal reentry as a reason for the trend.

What is border recidivism?

Border recidivism is the rate at which people try to reenter the US illegally within one year of being caught and sent back to their home country.

The word “recidivism” is often used to describe how likely a formerly incarcerated person is to re-offend. The same concept applies to border recidivism, which the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) defines as the percentage of people apprehended[1] by the US Border Patrol more than once within a fiscal year (which begin on October 1 and end on September 30 of the following year) for attempting to enter the US illegally.

It’s worth noting that an apprehension is not the same as an arrest. Apprehension is when Border Patrol detains someone who is unlawfully in the US. It may or may not lead to an arrest, according to the CBP’s definition.

Why does the government track border recidivism?

The federal government uses the border recidivism rate to measure how effective the Border Patrol is at preventing illegal immigration, according to a report from the US Government Accountability Office (GAO). However, the measure has some limitations.

According to the GAO and the US Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General, the border recidivism rate does not account for a person’s apprehension history over multiple fiscal years, nor does it consider individuals who have been apprehended but have no record of removal, which can lead to an underestimation of recidivism.

How has border recidivism increased in recent years?

Recidivism rates had generally declined since fiscal year (FY) 2015. However, this changed with the passage of Title 42 in March 2020, which made it easier for the government to expel migrants at the border and more difficult for people to seek asylum.

In FY 2015,14% of expelled migrants attempted to reenter illegally. That rate fell to 12% in FY 2016. In FY 2019, just 7% of migrants were apprehended more than once.

Repeat border crossings increased in FYs 2020 and 2021, reaching 26% and 27%, meaning that more than a quarter of migrants attempted to illegally cross the border at least twice.

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Border encounters, which include apprehensions and expulsions[2], increased from 337,000 in FY 2015 to over 1.6 million in FY 2021.

Border encounters by fiscal year
FY 2015 FY 2016 FY 2017 FY 2018 FY 2019 FY 2020 FY 2021
337,117 415,816 310,531 404,142 859,501 405,036 1,662,167

How do Title 42 and Title 8 affect border recidivism rates?

According to a 2023 Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, the increase in border recidivism rates under Title 42 was largely due to the lack of penalties for expelled migrants if they attempted to illegally reenter the US again.

Since the expiration of Title 42 in May 2023, the US has returned to using Title 8 to govern the processing and removal of unlawful immigrants at the border. People who are deported under Title 8 are prohibited from reentering the US for at least five years. If caught attempting to re-cross illegally, they could face prosecution and jail time and be presumed ineligible for asylum. Border Patrol data is not yet available to determine if border recidivism trends have reversed under Title 8.

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Beginning in 2020, CBP’s recidivism rate calculation includes both Title 8 apprehensions and US Border Patrol Title 42 expulsions.


Encounters before 2020 primarily include people apprehended while illegally entering the US. Title 42 expulsions make up the majority of border encounters in 2020 and 2021.