A new Department of Homeland Security study revises and lowers the estimated success rate in stopping illegal immigrants crossing the southern border, but even that figure paints a misleading picture, according to the president of the union representing border patrol officers.
The Associated Press said last week that the report, which has not yet been made public, estimates that 54 percent of the roughly 315,000 people trying to cross the border in fiscal year 2015 succeeded. That is significantly worse than the 81 percent success rate in stopping illegal border crossings that the government officially claims.
“Being an agent, myself, I know those numbers just aren’t true … It’s just disappointing that they’ve been lying to the American people for so long.”
The discrepancy is the result of differing methodology. The study’s authors did not count people who turned themselves in and then immediately applied for asylum. That number was 140,000 last year, up from 20,000 a decade ago. Counting them as illegal immigration stops makes the border appear more secure than it is. In addition, the report does not include so-called “touch-backs,” people who cross over the boundary but then run back when they see border patrol officers.
But Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, said even the new report counts as successful stops thousands of people who are briefly detained but then released because of Obama administration policies.
“We’ve refuted those numbers forever,” he said. “Being an agent myself, I know those numbers just aren’t true … It’s just disappointing that they’ve been lying to the American people for so long.”
For instance, a directive from the Department of Homeland Security requires border patrol officers to accept the word of anyone caught near the border who says he or she has been in the United States since before Jan. 1, 2014. Judd said the total number of people who fit that category, about 7,000, is small but growing rapidly as the word gets out. He said it tripled in the first six months of the policy.
Much more numerous, Judd said, are illegal immigrants who are apprehended and released with notices to appear for a hearing before an immigration judge — only to disappear into the interior of the country. He said as many as 80 percent fail to show for court hearings to adjudicate their legal residency status.
Judd said the share of illegal immigrants who make it to America probably is closer to 75 percent when counting illegal immigrants who abscond or are simply allowed to go free without even getting a notice to appear.
At the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which favors greater restrictions on immigration, spokesman Ira Mehlman said the new study undercuts the official figures that the government has published for years. He said President Obama needed people to think border agents were stopping most illegal immigrants in order to build support for legislation — ultimately unsuccessful — that would have adjusted the legal status of millions of people living illegally in the United States.
“The claims that the southern border is under control have been vastly, vastly overstated,” Mehlman said. “That was one of the president’s major claims when he was pushing for mass amnesty.”
Even while showing a lower success rate than the government has admitted, the study indicates that fewer people are getting through than a decade ago. The number of illegal immigrants getting through — 170,000 last year — was 10 times higher in fiscal year 2005. Judd said the declining numbers track a slowdown in immigration following the Great Recession.
Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, said additional border patrol resources passed by Congress also have helped. But she added that it is a mistake to declare the border secure.
“Even that 80 percent [figure from the official statistics] means we in no way have control of the border because of the catch-and-release situation,” she said.
The Department of Homeland Security has not released the new report because it is “incomplete and remains a work in progress,” agency spokeswoman Marsha Catron told the AP.
Critics contend that political appointees buried it because it undercuts the Obama administration’s claim that the border is secure.
“You kind of have to take any other claims here with a grain of salt,” Mehlman said.