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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a news conference along the Rio Grande, Sept. 21, 2021, in Del Rio, Texas. (AP) Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a news conference along the Rio Grande, Sept. 21, 2021, in Del Rio, Texas. (AP)

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a news conference along the Rio Grande, Sept. 21, 2021, in Del Rio, Texas. (AP)

Nusaiba Mizan
By Nusaiba Mizan January 10, 2022

If Your Time is short

  • Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's tweet about the number of migrants from southern Africa apprehended in Texas sectors gained attention online.
  • Those numbers were preliminary, subject-to-change Border Patrol numbers from the Texas Department of Public Safety, not Customs and Border Protection.
  • The numbers are cannot be verified until CBP releases its data.
  • November data released in December indicates the number of migrants from southern Africa who were apprehended on the Southwest Border was much lower than the preliminary number Abbott tweeted.

As experts sprinted to learn more about the omicron variant first identified in South Africa, the U.S. set travel restrictions on South Africa and other countries in the region to curb the spread of the variant.

President Joe Biden restricted travel on Nov. 26 from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Those restrictions were in effect until Dec. 31.

In a Nov. 29 tweet, Gov. Greg Abbott weighed in on the travel restrictions and linked the idea of people coming from South Africa and surrounding countries to illegal immigration. Abbott criticized Biden's travel and border policies in the tweet.

"Over 50 illegal immigrants from South Africa and other South African countries under the Biden travel ban have been apprehended by CBP this year, with 18 being apprehended this month alone," Abbott said in a tweet that gained traction online.

Customs and Border Protection told PolitiFact Texas it logged 39 encounters from January through October with migrants from southern Africa.

So where did Abbott's numbers come from? Let's take a look.

What Customs and Border Protection data indicates

Border Patrol data is collected and released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. A Dec. 23 email from CBP stated that the agency had 25 encounters with people from southern African countries along the Southwest border in 2021 through November.

In summarizing all encounters from the African continent, the agency said: "There were 336 encounters of individuals from Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Republic of South Africa, Eswatini (Swaziland), and Zimbabwe for (calendar year 2021) through November at and between air, land and sea ports nationwide (25 along the SWB)."

CBP defines an "encounter" as a law enforcement action. Technically, that includes both apprehensions — defined as "the physical control or temporary detainment of a person who is not lawfully in the U.S. which may or may not result in an arrest" — and "expulsions," a measure implemented due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It also includes "inadmissibles," who are people seeking to enter the U.S. at a port of entry but who are determined to be "inadmissible."

Where did Abbott get his data?

A spokesperson for the governor's office indicated that the governor's referenced Border Patrol data, via the Texas Department of Public Safety. The department has access to this data through interagency operations, specifically Operation Border Star.

Abbott's numbers came from a Dec. 1 executive report by the Texas Fusion Center, which "provides real-time intelligence support to law enforcement and public safety authorities" according to the Department of Public Safety's website. In other words, Texas has access to real-time data on border security.

The report indicated all numbers are "preliminary, unofficial, and subject to change" and included a chart of Border Patrol apprehensions by month through Nov. 28 of migrants from southern African countries in Texas sectors on the Southwest border.

The Texas preliminary data showed 39 apprehensions for January through October, which would be higher than CBP's reported number of 20 encounters along the Southwest land border for January through October.

Abbott said "over 50" because the November data in the Department of Public Safety's data logged 18 apprehensions, which Abbott also noted in the tweet. These added 18 apprehensions would mean there were 57 apprehensions in Texas through Nov. 28.

The number of apprehensions does not necessarily equal the number of individuals who have been apprehended because a person can be apprehended more than once. Abbott referred to individual people in his tweet, and a Texas Public Safety spokesperson confirmed the agency's data refers to the apprehension of individuals. CBP said its data only refers to law enforcement actions, not individual people.

CBP's data from prior years

The numbers from the Texas Department of Public Safety show an increase from recent fiscal years for the Southwest border. 

For example, from Oct. 1, 2019, to Sept. 30, 2020, Border Patrol data indicate there were six encounters with South African citizens on the Southwest border. If you include the northern border, there were eight total apprehensions or expulsions of South African citizens in fiscal year 2020.

But, for 2021, the agency's data indicated 13 apprehensions of South Africans in Texas sectors alone.

The Texas agency's numbers indicate 41 apprehensions of Malawi citizens, with 14 apprehensions of people from Malawi in November alone. In past fiscal years, there were no apprehensions of citizens from Malawi.

Ultimately, when Abbott tweeted, "Over 50 illegal immigrants from South Africa and other South African countries under the Biden travel ban have been apprehended by CBP this year, with 18 being apprehended this month alone" he was speaking ahead of the Customs and Border Protection's release of data.

As of Dec. 23, the CBP data through November indicated 25 encounters of people from southern African countries along the Southwest border, and Texas preliminary data through Nov. 28 suggested more than 50 apprehensions in Texas sectors along the border.

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Our Sources

Tweet by Gov. Greg Abbott, Nov. 29, 2021

The White House, "A Proclamation on Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Certain Additional Persons Who Pose a Risk of Transmitting Coronavirus Disease 2019," Nov. 26, 2021

Dawn Gilbertson, USA TODAY, "US to restrict travel from South Africa, seven other countries due to new COVID-19 variant omicron," Nov. 26, 2021

Jorge L. Ortiz, John Bacon, and Celina Tebor, USA TODAY, "First confirmed US case of the omicron variant detected in California: COVID-19 updates," Dec. 1, 2021

Julian Gill, "Harris County woman contracts first known omicron case in Texas," Dec. 6, 2021

Bailey Schulz, "Biden to lift travel ban against South Africa, 7 other countries," Dec. 31, 2021

Email from Renae Eze, office of Governor Greg Abbott, Nov. 30, 2021

Emails from Ericka Miller, press secretary at the Texas Department of Public Safety, Dec. 1–Dec. 3, 2021.

Texas Fusion Center, Texas Department of Public Safety, "Report #2021-12-01.2" Executive Report, Dec. 1, 2021.

Emails from Rhonda Lawson, public affairs specialist, Dec. 8, Dec. 15, Dec. 16, and Dec. 23 2021

Customs and Border Protection, "US Border Patrol Nationwide Apprehensions by Citizenship & Sector (FY07-19)"

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A look behind Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's data on southern African migrants