U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials Monday offered good news/bad news immigration statistics. On the one hand, the number of illegal immigrants crashing the southwest border is on track to finish the fiscal year this month at its lowest point in at least six years. On the other hand, the total for August rose 22 percent over July — and has increased four consecutive months after hitting a six-year low of 15,771 in April.
Many attributed a dramatic plummet in illegal border crossings to President Donald Trump’s tough rhetoric on immigration. The number of apprehensions near the border and at ports of entry was higher in the first four months of the fiscal year, when Barack Obama was president, than in the last seven, while Trump has been in office.
Experts generally estimate that for every illegal immigrant apprehended, one makes it through, offering a rough snapshot of the illegal flow across the border.
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Apprehensions averaged 57,740 a month from October through January. The total was 42,470 in January and then declined 44.5 percent, falling to 23,557 in February. The number tumbled over the next two months. In all, the decrease from January to April was nearly 63 percent. Since then, however, the number has nearly doubled.
Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, said the most relevant figures to examine of the year-over-year changes since monthly totals fluctuate seasonally. The border apprehensions last months were 41 percent lower than August 2016.
Vaughan said the long-term decline in illegal immigration is a function of a change in tone and changes in the marching orders for immigration officials.
[lz_table title=”Border Crossings” source=”Department of Homeland Security”]Apprehensions along Southwest border
*First 11 months
“The policies have changed some, though, more than a little bit,” she said. “This [decline] is undeniably the result of changes in policy by the Trump administration to allow immigration agents to do their jobs.”
Chris Chmielenski, director of content and activism at NumbersUSA, said the big-picture trend is positive.
“I guess I would say glass half-full, but more cautious,” he said.
Chmielenski added that much will depend, going forward, on whether lawmakers approve Trump’s requests for more immigration officers, detention space, and border barriers.
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“They still need some desperate help from Congress,” he said.
But some immigration hawks worried that Trump threatens to undo the border security gains by signaling that he would sign an amnesty law for illegal immigrations currently covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which former President Barack Obama’s administration created to protect illegal immigrants brought to America as children.
“You never know what to make of President Trump’s waffling on issues related to illegal immigration,” said Joseph Guzzardi, a spokesman for Californians for Population Stabilization. “There’s huge mixed messages.”
Guzzardi said illegal immigration will rise again if foreigners judge that they are likely to benefit. He said the administration needs to focus on goals such as persuading Congress to require all businesses to use the E-Verify system to check the employment authorization of all job prospective workers.
“The policies on the ground haven’t changed,” he said. “There’s been no meaningful progress on his much-ballyhooed wall. There’s been no meaningful progress on E-Verify.”
Vaughan said the long-term signals depend on what Congress does now. But she said one immediate message that’s likely is that DACA will end.
“In the short term,” she said, “ending DACA was very helpful.”