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Data | Sharp rise in Indians illegally crossing U.S. northern border from Canada

Updated - December 14, 2023 11:03 am IST

Published - December 14, 2023 11:00 am IST

The number of accompanied and unaccompanied children who illegally cross the U.S. border from India has gone up too

Migrants from India walk into the United States after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona | Photo Credit: AFP

A question that was raised in the Rajya Sabha a few days ago has put the spotlight on the issue of Indians illegally entering the United States. In his reply to a question, the Minister of State for External Affairs, V. Muraleedharan, quoted data from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and said that U.S. officials encountered close to 1 lakh illegal Indian migrants just this year. This trend of thousands of Indians trying to enter the U.S. illegally is new; it has been seen in the last four years.

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A decade ago, a little over 1,500 Indian illegal migrants were stopped by the U.S. border authorities (Chart 1). The number increased marginally in the following years but remained below the 10,000 mark till 2019. But since 2020, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of Indians trying to cross the border illegally with the figure touching 96,917 in 2023.

Chart 1 shows the number of Indians attempting to enter the U.S. illegally.

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This surge in the number of illegal migrants gains prominence as the U.S. presidential elections are scheduled next year and illegal border crossings is one of the top issues for U.S. voters. Donald Trump, who is among the leading Republican presidential candidates, has blamed U.S. President Joe Biden for reversing many of his immigration-related policies.

In general, most illegal border crossings are reported from the southwest, i.e., the U.S.-Mexico border. In 2023, over 77% of all illegal migrants entering the U.S. were apprehended from the southwest border with the northern border — along Canada — accounting for roughly 6%. This was true of illegal Indian migrants too, but lately, an increasing number of them are choosing to enter the U.S. through the northern border (Chart 2). The number of undocumented Indians entering through the northern border increased from less than 100 in 2014 to over 30,000 in 2023, almost matching the number of those who tried to enter from the southwest border. 

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Chart 2 shows the border-wise number of illegal migrants — from India and overall — who are attempting to enter the U.S.

While the number of Indians trying to cross illegally has increased, their share in the total number of such migrants is still nominal. In absolute terms, the majority of illegal migrants hail from Mexico (Chart 3). However, the country’s share in total illegal migrants has seen a drop in recent years. India, despite the surge, accounts for only 3% of all illegal migrants trying to cross the U.S. border.

 Chart 3 shows nationality-wise the number of illegal migrants trying to enter the U.S. The larger the circle, the more the number of illegal migrants.

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The entry of minors and their separation from families has been another thorny issue in the U.S. in recent times. A Trump-era policy had led to the separation of over 5,000 children from their parents who tried to migrate illegally. This is a policy which Mr. Trump still claims deterred many from illegally entering the U.S. While the majority of Indians who were apprehended by the border force are single adults, there has been a spike in the number of minors trying to cross the border (Chart 4). Accompanied Indian minors increased from just nine in 2020 to 261 in 2023. Unaccompanied children or single minors from India who attempted to illegally cross also increased from 219 in 2020 to 730 in 2023. 

Table 4 shows a breakdown of the number of illegal Indian immigrants to the U.S. by demography.

Last Friday, a federal judge had prohibited separation of minors from families for eight more years saying it was “simply cruel”.

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With inputs from AP

Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Also read: Data | Unaccompanied minors apprehended at the US-Mexico border climb to a ten-year high in 2020

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