Immigration Decoded

Published — April 4, 2018 Updated — August 30, 2018 at 2:59 pm ET

As Trump plans for troops at the border, numbers show border arrests are down

Immigrants suspected of crossing into the United States illegally along the Rio Grande near Granjeno, Texas, are held by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents on Aug. 11, 2017. Eric Gay / AP

Plans are to work with governors to deploy National Guard, despite statistics that indicate border crossings have been sharply dropping, not growing.


After President Trump issued a furious barrage of tweets about sending U.S. troops to the southern border, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders referred to “the growing influx” of both people and drugs that’s prompted calls for more dramatic measures. But the statistics that U.S. officials have long used to measure the pace of migrant influx — apprehensions — indicate that border crossings have been sharply dropping, not growing.

U.S. Border Patrol data shows that overall apprehensions began to fall steadily after 2006, falling more steeply with the onset of the so-called Great Recession in December 2007. Apprehensions fell from nearly 1.8 million in 2005 to under 304,000 in 2017, the lowest number in 37 years. That was during Trump’s first year in office, and coincided with his campaign of harsh rhetoric targeting undocumented immigrants. In 2011, during the administration of former President Barack Obama, the second lowest number of apprehensions in decades was registered at 327,577.

Illegal immigration specifically from Mexico is the lowest in 50 years, and legal immigration of Mexicans to the United States is not increasing, the Pew Research Center found in a 2016 analysis. Pew attributed declines to the recession-era fall in the availability of U.S. jobs, Mexicans returning to Mexico, beefed-up border enforcement since the mid-2000s and a plunge in births in Mexico from almost 6.8 per woman in 1960 to about 2.2 children per woman in 2015.

Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Border Patrol staffing swelled from less than 8,000 personnel in 1996 to more than 19,800 in 2016. The U.S. military is prohibited from engaging in active law enforcement, unless sanctioned by Congress. But National Guard troops have been occasionally deployed to provide background, logistical support to Border Patrol agents, once by former President George W. Bush and once by former President Barack Obama.

On Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security announced that in coordination with state governors, National Guard troops would be deployed to serve as “an immediate deterrent while dramatically enhancing operational control over the border.” Congress will determine the duration of the deployment, the Homeland Security announcement said.

Trump’s tweets, including an accusation that “our country is being stolen,” follows Fox News coverage about a self-declared “caravan” moving through Mexico consisting of less than 1,000 people, mostly from Honduras and other Central American countries. The “caravan” actually represents an annual civil rights demonstration coinciding with Easter and designed to draw attention to the plight of Central Americans fleeing gang violence and government crackdowns.

In interviews, some of those traveling in the caravan said it was safer to travel through Mexico in a group, adding that they intended to seek asylum in Mexico, if not the United States. U.S. State Department and other research has noted that Honduras and El Salvador as afflicted with some of the world’s highest murder rates, as well as judicial dysfunction and criminal organizations that prey on the vulnerable.

But the Trump Administration has taken a tough stance on Central American asylum seekers, aiming to a staunch a flow that grew in recent years to include teens and young children. The Homeland Security announcement noted that nearly 50 percent of those intercepted at the border are now Central Americans. Before 2009 about 90 percent were Mexican. The agency blamed a growth in claims of “credible fear” — a step to requesting asylum — on “asylum fraud.” The administration complains that thousands then end up released into the United States and don’t show up for proceedings.

The path to asylum isn’t easy: If they’re able to enter and pass that initial test in a quest for asylum, migrants must then attempt to convince U.S. officials they face mortal danger — often because of extortion, attempted recruitment, rape and death threats, as the Center for Public Integrity has reported.

As in overall apprehensions, however, far fewer of these would-be asylum seekers could be entering now, judging from recent Border Patrol statistics. During the first five months of the 2018 fiscal year — between October 2017 and the end of February 2018 — there were 15,575 apprehensions of unaccompanied minors along the border. That’s a 37 percent decline from the 27,552 minors taken into custody during the same time frame last year. The number of “family units,” or a child and parent, apprehended fell by 46 percent, from 57,265 during last year’s first five-month period to 31,112 so far this year.

Read more in Inequality, Opportunity and Poverty

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