Politics & Government

Border Patrol apprehensions plummet as Trump turns up heat

Workers raising a taller fence along the border separating the towns of Anapra, Mexico, and Sunland Park, New Mexico.
Workers raising a taller fence along the border separating the towns of Anapra, Mexico, and Sunland Park, New Mexico. AP

U.S. Border Patrol apprehensions have dropped 40 percent since Donald Trump was sworn into office and issued a series of executive orders that have fueled the perceptions that migrants are unwelcome in the United States.

The number of people apprehended in February, 18,762, was dramatically lower than the 31,578 detained in January.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said the Border Patrol typically sees a 10 to 20 percent increase starting in January. The drop this year makes February’s one of the lowest apprehension totals in at least the last five years.

“This trend is encouraging because it means many fewer people are putting themselves and their families at risk of exploitation, assault and injury by human traffickers and the physical dangers of the treacherous journey north,” Kelly said in a statement.

One month of statistics does not necessarily reflect a new trend, but the drop is significant considering border agents apprehended more family members entering the United States along the Southwest border in fiscal year 2016 than they did in 2014, when tens of thousands of migrants from Central America flooded the U.S. border fleeing poverty and violence.

This steep one month decrease in apprehensions at the southwest border is likely a consequence of both Trump's extraordinary threats against immigrants and the media's unprecedented magnification of those threats.

Bryan Johnson, immigration attorney

Raising even more questions about the Obama administration’s part enforcement, part humanitarian assistance strategy, both family apprehensions and detentions of unaccompanied children increased dramatically last year, with family apprehensions nearly doubling and the number children traveling without parents increasing 52 percent.

Trump’s blunt approach, at least, initially appears to be having a dramatic impact.

Supporters certainly will credit the decrease to tougher policies and a clearer statement from the administration that it’s serious about being tough on illegal immigration. Advocates won’t disagree, but are likely to note that the drop might also be attributable to new strategies on the part of migrants and smugglers responding to the administration’s tactics.

Immigration attorney Bryan Johnson noted that apprehensions also dropped in 2015 when former President Barack Obama increased enforcement on the border, including detaining mothers and children, after the 2014 surge of unaccompanied children and families. But the drop didn’t last long as migrants and smugglers adapted. Numbers spiked even higher in 2016.

“This steep one month decrease in apprehensions at the southwest border is likely a consequence of both Trump's extraordinary threats against immigrants and the media's unprecedented magnification of those threats,” Johnson said.

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