The flow of Central American migrants to the U.S.-Mexican border has turned into a gusher in recent months, raising the possibility that the total by the end of the fiscal year in September could match the record set in 2014.
“People in Central America can’t really be sure who’s going to be the next president, and they’re hedging their bets,” said Ira Mehlman.
That year, a summer surge of unaccompanied children overwhelmed the U.S. immigration system and sparked a fight between the Obama administration and border hawks in Congress. New data from U.S. Border and Customs Protection shows that agents apprehended 38,135 illegal immigrants, the highest total this year and the most since July 2014.
For the fiscal year, 223,899 people have been apprehended, putting it well ahead of last year’s pace. The 32,952 children younger than 18 who have been taken into custody is also well ahead of the pace set in fiscal year 2015, when 39,970 children came. If the numbers bulge again in the summer as they did in fiscal year 2014, it could set an all-time record.
“We are seeing record numbers of illegal crossers of all kinds, not just the unaccompanied alien kids,” immigration expert Jessica Vaughan said on “The Laura Ingraham Show” on Tuesday. “Those numbers look like we’re going to get more even [illegals] than two years ago, which was, you know, a historic surge of unaccompanied kids and families from Central America … We’re looking at an average of almost 1,300 people a day who are caught arriving illegally.”
Under Obama administration policy, border patrol agents release most of the arrivals to sponsors in the U.S., with instructions to appear at a court hearing to determine their status. But an Immigration and Customs Enforcement official acknowledged last week at a Senate hearing that about half the people skip those hearings.
The response by the administration has been underwhelming. Although it’s drawn criticism from pro-immigration activists for a series of raids carried out by ICE agents, few people have been apprehended. Raids announced just before Christmas nabbed 121 people; a smaller number of that group have actually been sent home.
“The fall last year certainly was not because the Obama administration was sending people back,” said Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, a Washington-based organization that favors lower immigration levels.
Historically, most unaccompanied minors caught on the border have come from Mexico. As recently as fiscal year 2013, almost half were from Mexico. While the number of children from Mexico has declined every year since then, however, minors from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have been coming in much greater numbers.
[lz_table title=”Aliens Apprehended at Mexican Border” source=”U.S. Customs and Border Protection”]Fiscal year,Aliens,Minors
* First 7 months
A law passed in 2008 to combat human trafficking gives new rights to seek asylum to people from non-contiguous countries. That means that minors from Mexico get sent back home immediately, while those from Central America get court dates. Beck said few Central Americans can plausibly meet the qualifications for asylum because they are not escaping political oppression.
“That’s a very tiny, little minority,” he said. “Most of these people are fleeing bad economic conditions.”
Vaughan, director of policy for the Center for Immigration Studies, said smugglers coach immigrants on what to say to trigger asylum proceedings.
“They know what to say,” she said. “Smuggling organizations tell them what to say.”
Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said the law has encouraged smuggling; Central Americans often pay people to ferry their children to the U.S. border with the expectation that they will be let into the country. He said the dip in apprehensions in fiscal year 2015 may have been the result of noise from the Obama administration about sending the children home.
But the surge resumed once people realized there would be no real enforcement, Mehlman said. He speculated that uncertainty over the U.S. presidential election also is playing a role.
“It was still way, way above [in fiscal 2015] what it has been … Down is only relative,” he said. “People in Central America can’t really be sure who’s going to be the next president, and they’re hedging their bets.”
Mehlman called on Congress to amend the human trafficking law to close the loophole that Central Americans now are exploiting. In the interim, he said, the administration could set up a process for expedited hearings that would make quick asylum determinations and then send people home before they can disappear into American society.
Vaughan said the same approach goes for immigration law, generally.
“The first thing that candidate Trump ought to be saying is, ‘I’m going to allow our career immigration enforcement officers to enforce the law that we have.’ And that, alone, would take care of a lot of this problem … It’s not that complicated. Enforce the laws we have. Tweak the ones that need to be tweaked. And this would stop this nonsense.”