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PolitiFact FL: DeSantis exaggerates number of migrants in US illegally under Biden

Migrants who crossed into the U.S. from Mexico are met with concertina wire along the Rio Grande, Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, in Eagle Pass, Texas.
Eric Gay
Migrants who crossed into the U.S. from Mexico are met with concertina wire along the Rio Grande, Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, in Eagle Pass, Texas.

WLRN has partnered with PolitiFact to fact-check Florida politicians. The Pulitzer Prize-winning team seeks to present the true facts, unaffected by agenda or biases.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently vowed that, if elected president, he will deport all migrants who have entered the U.S. illegally under President Joe Biden.

"Everyone that has come illegally under Biden, we gotta, we’ll send them back. That’s going to be first priority," DeSantis said at a Sept. 29 campaign event in California. "That’s probably 6 or 7 million people right there. It’s going to require a lot of effort."

But DeSantis is conflating the number of times border patrol agents have encountered migrants at the border with the number of migrants who entered and remain in the country, an error also made by others who previously vied for the Republican presidential nomination.

When contacted for comment, DeSantis’ campaign pointed us to his immigration policy, which outlines broad plans to handle deportations, including hiring "more border patrol agents and more removal agents" and allowing "ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations officers to do their jobs."

What is not reflected in DeSantis’ figure

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol data shows that the figures DeSantis cited are close to the nationwide number of migrant encounters at and between ports of entry since Biden took office. But that figure doesn’t show how many migrants remained in the U.S.

Biden was inaugurated Jan. 20, 2021. From February 2021 through August 2023, there were about 7.2 million encounters across all points of entry nationwide, CBP’s data shows.

Encounter data does not reflect the number of individual immigrants stopped. For example, if one person tries to cross the border three times and is stopped each time, that would be counted as three encounters.

The data also does not reflect expulsions.

"The CBP encounters include nearly 3 million expulsions — in other words, enforcement activity that ensures people do not remain in the United States," said Michelle Mittelstadt, communications director for the Migration Policy Institute, a progressive think tank.

Mittelstadt also said some people apprehended at the border are initially detained and eventually removed from the country.

CBP data confirms Mittelstadt’s point that millions of encounters led to removals. From February 2021 to May 2023, there were about 2.5 million expulsions under Title 42, a COVID-19 pandemic-era policy that allowed border officials to quickly expel migrants who crossed the southwest border. Besides the Title 42 removals, CBP data shows there have been about 591,000 removals initiated by border authorities during Biden’s tenure.

There is no available data that shows the number of migrants who have been allowed to stay in the country after entering.

PolitiFact reached out to CBP and the Department of Homeland Security but did not receive a reply.

Mass deportations aren’t simple

DeSantis is not the only Republican presidential candidate who has promised mass deportations; Former President Donald Trump also made that promise during his tenure, and we rated it Promise Broken.

The highest number of deportations in a single year came in 2013, when the Obama administration deported around 438,000 people.

Experts say that instituting mass deportations is easier said than done.

"Deporting millions of people summarily is an implausible and fantastical idea that has been brought forward from time to time for political purposes only," said Mario Russell, the executive director at the Center for Migration Studies, a nonpartisan think tank.

"It is not practical or achievable as it would require a huge increase in enforcement resources, court expenditures and more," said Russell.

Our ruling

DeSantis said 6 million or 7 million people have "come illegally under Biden."

His estimate misrepresents the data. Since Biden took office, border patrol agents have encountered migrants about 7.2 million times at and between ports of entry. But that doesn’t mean that many migrants entered and remained in the U.S. That data shows events, not individuals, and one person can be recorded multiple times.

CBP data also shows that millions of encounters led to removals.

DeSantis’ statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.

RELATED: Experts say Ron DeSantis’ plan to send troops to the U.S.-Mexico border wouldn't lower fentanyl flow

Our Sources

Marta Campabadal is a reporter at PolitiFact focused on Spanish-speaking misinformation.
Samantha Putterman is a fact-checker for PolitiFact based in Florida reporting on misinformation with a focus on abortion and public health.
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