Some popular online posts suggest that Vice President Kamala Harris’ trip to El Paso is “over 1000 miles away” from the “border crisis.” It’s true that other areas — including the Rio Grande Valley — are experiencing higher levels of border activity, as critics have noted, but El Paso is a hotspot for illegal immigration.
Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to the U.S. southern border in El Paso on June 25 — a move that comes amid an influx of immigrants illegally crossing the border. It followed criticism by Harris’ political opponents that she had not yet gone to see the issues firsthand.
In the days leading up to the trip, the choice of location became a point of criticism, too.
Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat, called the destination of El Paso “politically safer.” And Politico cited two unnamed sources in reporting that the location for Harris’ trip was chosen in part “because El Paso is in less of a crisis than other areas.”
But some popular online posts took the critique further, leaving the misleading impression that El Paso, in the western corner of Texas, was not truly a visit to the “border” (quotation marks theirs) or that the “border crisis” didn’t apply to El Paso.
“Kamala finally has an upcoming border trip. Problem is, she’s going to El Paso,” reads a Facebook post shared more than 1,200 times. The post features a map pointing to the area of the Rio Grande Valley sector and labeling it the “border crisis” and noting the distance to El Paso.
The El Paso area has in fact seen a significant uptick in Border Patrol activity this fiscal year compared to the same time period last year, Customs and Border Protection statistics show. In May, Border Patrol’s El Paso sector recorded 22,219 encounters — the third highest of the nine sectors that month.
It’s true, though, that other areas along the border (especially the Rio Grande Valley sector) have experienced higher amounts and increases in terms of overall Border Patrol activity this year — as some critics of the trip have noted.
The map being used in the Facebook and Instagram posts came from a June 23 tweet by Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, who criticized the location, writing, “After all that, @VP isn’t even going to the right place. Here’s a map.”
Cornyn later tweeted a thread, on June 25, in which he said that “El Paso has definitely been negatively effected by the Biden-Harris” administration’s policies, but said the Rio Grande Valley was the “epicenter” of the problem.
Looking at the raw numbers of total Border Patrol encounters by each sector, the Rio Grande Valley sector has indeed seen the highest number of encounters — 271,927 — so far in fiscal year 2021.
Other sectors have seen higher rates of increases in overall Border Patrol activity than Rio Grande Valley or El Paso, when compared to the same time period in fiscal year 2020.
The Yuma sector in Arizona has seen a 738.6% increase in Border Patrol encounters this fiscal year from last, Michelle Mittelstadt, communications director for the Migration Policy Institute, pointed out in an email to us, noting that there are different ways to gauge the changing activity.
The Rio Grande Valley sector has reported a 406.7% increase in overall Border Patrol activity. And the El Paso sector has experienced a 267.5% increase — the fifth-highest rate — and ranked fourth for the raw number of encounters.
Other data also show that the El Paso area remains a hotspot — contrary to the impression of the Facebook and Instagram posts — even if it doesn’t experience the same volume as some other sectors.
Mittelstadt noted that Border Patrol statistics show “the El Paso sector has experienced among the most rapid increases in encounters of unaccompanied children (ranking third in year-over-year percent change after Yuma and Big Bend); and ranks fourth among sectors in terms of the increase in encounters of single adults.”
On the first point, the El Paso sector saw a 232% increase in encounters with unaccompanied migrant children from October through March (8,636), compared with the same period in fiscal year 2020 (2,598).
While the rate was slightly higher than Rio Grande Valley’s rate of 230%, the raw numbers show Rio Grande Valley experienced the most encounters with unaccompanied children (20,964) of all the sectors, as of March.
Daniels, Eugene. “Harris looks to shift the narrative at the southern border.” Politico. 25 Jun 2021.
Jaffe, Alexandra. “On border tour, Harris cites ‘progress’ in ‘tough’ situation.” Associated Press. 25 Jun 2021.
Lippman, Daniel. “Kamala Harris is set to visit the border.” Politico. 23 Jun 2021.
Mittelstadt, Michelle. Director of communications, Migration Policy Institute. Email to FactCheck.org. 24 Jun 2021.
“Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki.” White House. 23 Jun 2021.
Rogers, Katie and Zolan Kanno-Youngs. “After Criticism Over Her Border Absence, Harris Will Visit El Paso.” New York Times. 23 Jun 2021.
“Southwest Land Border Encounters (By Component).” U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Updated 9 Jun 2021.
“U.S. Border Patrol Southwest Border Apprehensions by Sector.” U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Accessed 24 Jun 2021.
“Vice President Harris Holds Briefing at Southern Border.” C-SPAN. 25 Jun 2021.