Customs and Border Protection officers stopped 15,780 people trying to cross the southwest border last month, the fewest in the past six years, according to the latest statistics the agency has published.
The numbers continue a sharp decline since President Donald Trump took office and indicate that border jumping has fallen dramatically. Experts generally consider that for every person apprehended, one makes it past border defenses.
“Even though Congress did not fund those priorities, the fact that he keeps talking about it means the word gets around the world.”
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Immigration hawks attributed the decline to Trump’s get-tough rhetoric, backed up by stiffer enforcement measures. The numbers have fallen even though Congress has not appropriated money for a border wall and even though it is too soon for additional Border Patrol officers to have hit the field.
“It’s an extension of the president’s tough talk on immigration enforcement,” said Chris Chmielenski, director of content and activism for NumbersUSA. “Even though Congress did not fund those priorities, the fact that he keeps talking about it means the word gets around the world.”
Border Patrol agents nabbed 11,129 people trying to crash the border in April. Customs agents stopped another 4,651 people trying to pass through a customs station with false documents, by hiding in a vehicle or other means. The total of 15,780 people stopped represents a 5 percent drop from March. Compared with April 2016, border apprehensions are down 67 percent.
Border crossings have been running significantly lower since Trump took office. From February through April, his first full three months in office, Customs and Border Protection officers caught 55,943 trying to enter illegally. The number during that three-month period last year, when Barack Obama was president, was 132,928.
[lz_table title=”Border Apprehensions Plummet” source=”Customs and Border Protection”]Apprehensions along southwest border
January,42 473,33 654
February,23 563,38 309
March,16 600,46 117
April,15 780,48 502
Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, said Trump’s rhetoric certainly has played a role but is not the only explanation. New policies have helped, she said.
“It’s more just that,” she said. “It’s also the policy that is backing up that message. The Obama administration said a lot of the same things, perhaps in a more legalistic way … It appears more and more likely this is the new normal.”
Vaughan said the Trump administration is detaining more people who come illegally and not letting in people while they seek asylum. Under the Obama administration, the policy was to let people seeking asylum wait for a disposition in the U.S. The process often extended for years.
Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the American Federation for Immigration Reform, said the statistics show that illegal immigration is not an inevitability that defies solution.
“It just demonstrates that illegal aliens are extremely rational people,” he said. “They respond to the signals we send.”
Mehlman said taking a harder line on asylum — limiting it only to people who are victims of political or religious persecution and not fleeing general violence — has deterred people from making the expensive and dangerous journey north.
“It was never about increased violence in Central America or any of these other factors we were told,” he said.
A subset of people caught at the border, unaccompanied minors, is also way down. U.S. Border Patrol agents caught 998 youths trying to cross in April. That is down from 1,043 in March and 4,411 in January. Adults crossing with children — called “family units” by the government — dropped from 9,300 in January to 1,119 last month.
“If the policies that the administration has put in place are sustained and succeed along with implementation of a number of other policies, I do not expect to see a new surge in illegal arrivals of kids or families,” Vaughan said.
Government officials are bracing for an increase in overall illegal immigration in the coming months.
“CBP expects the seasonal uptick in apprehensions and inadmissibles in the coming summer months based on historic trends,” Customs and Border Protection officials said in a statement.
Mehlman said the Trump administration should continue its efforts to ramp up interior enforcement, erect fencing on the border, and hire more agents.
“We’re still going to need physical barriers because that’s an important component,” he said. “It all kind of feeds on itself.”
Illegal border crossings, although down, are still on track to exceed 200,000 for the entire year.
“There are still some people getting through,” Vaughan said.
Chmielenski, of NumbersUSA, said building double-layer fencing — as called for in the Secure Fence Act of 2006 — would make it harder for future presidents to undo the gains.
“As much as some of the president’s opponents would like to think otherwise, he won’t be president of the United States forever,” he said. “A future president isn’t going to tear down fencing.”