Fewer apprehensions on Mexico border after ‘zero-tolerance’
The number of migrants captured by U.S. Customs and Border Protection along the U.S.-Mexico border dropped by 15% from May to June this year as the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy took effect, though summertime temperatures also account for the decline.
According to data released by U.S. Border Protection, in June a total of 34,114 people were apprehended between ports of entry, compared with 40,338 in May.
This means either that fewer people are attempting to cross the border, or that the number of migrants is unchanged while the proportion of those apprehended is higher.
Tyler Houlton, the spokesman of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, claimed in a statement that the falling number of apprehensions indicates fewer migrants are crossing into the U.S. “Following the implementation of the Administration’s zero-tolerance policy, the June 2018 Southwest Border Migration numbers declined by 18 percent when compared to the previous month,” he said.
The Trump administration announced a “zero tolerance” policy in April, prosecuting more men and women traveling with children than previously had been done, and tightening rules on asylum procedures for people seeking lawful admission at ports of entry.
Family arrests have risen steadily this year, plateauing in June. Border agents apprehended 9,485 family members in May, the first full month during which ‘zero-tolerance’ was in effect, compared with only 1,580 in the same month the year before. That number remained essentially unchanged in June, with 9,449 people arrested who were traveling in family groups.
U.S. border officials also turned away far fewer people at official border crossings in June, suggesting that tougher asylum policies could be discouraging migrants from attempting to enter legally to apply for asylum. The number of migrants whom the Border Patrol deemed “inadmissible” and turned away was 2,742 in June, down 42% from the previous month.
Tougher border polices have had an outsized effect in Texas compared to other border states. So far this year four of five Border Patrol sectors in Texas have seen declines in apprehensions of people traveling in families, whereas three sectors outside Texas saw big increases. Del Rio, El Paso (which also includes New Mexico), and Big Bend sectors saw changes of -12%, -18%, and -21%, respectively, from Oct. 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018, compared to the same period last year.
The fifth Texas sector, Rio Grande, was basically unchanged, with 42,347 apprehensions of people traveling in families compared to 42,194 in the previous fiscal year. A dip in June could be attributed to the difficulty of traveling across drylands with children during the summertime. Border Protection said on Friday that smuggling attempts “continue to plague the Rio Grande Valley.” The agency dismantled two Texas stash houses last week, one in Edinburg and one in Donna, and it captured several smugglers bringing migrants across brushlands on foot and in tractor-trailers.
In contrast to the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection are downplaying the June decline in apprehensions, saying that they are still seeing “sustained levels of illegal immigration,” and attributing the June dip partly to hot weather. Migration across the U.S.-Mexico frontier is “especially hazardous this time of year,” the agency noted in a statement, saying it has set up emergency beacons in the desert and special search and rescue teams. 2016, 2014, and 2013 saw drops from May to June similar to the one this year. In 2017 the number of arrests increased from May to June, though the migration level in May of that year was lower to begin with compared with the other years.
Many of the migrants detained by Customs and Border Protection hail from Central American states, not from Mexico. Some of them are fleeing from violence while others are seeking economic opportunity. El Salvador had the world’s highest murder rate in 2016, Honduras has the next highest, and Guatemala has the tenth highest murder rate, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. The number of Guatemalan and Honduran migrants increased sharply this year. In prior years there were significant numbers of Salvadorans, but 2018 has seen a sharp decline in the number of people detained en route from El Salvador.
President Trump has clashed with Democrats and some of his fellow Republicans over how to handle enforcement policy and immigration policy at the U.S.-Mexico border, especially regarding the handling of migrant parents traveling children. The administration’s ‘zero-tolerance’ policy resulted in more than 2,300 children being separated from their families from May to June as their parents were referred for prosecution.
The policy stoked the fury of protesters in several Texas border towns. President Trump has said that he did not want to see children separated from their parents but that this was a necessary consequence of enforcing immigration laws. He ended the separation policy in a decree last month, and a federal judge ordered that the separated children be reunited to their families.
Last month several members of the U.S. Congress introduced legislation to prohibit border agents from separating children from their parents during immigration proceedings. The legislation is yet to be voted on because legislators departed for a long July 4th recess. Two immigration and border bills in the U.S. House failed last month when opposing factions within the Republican House Caucus were unable to agree on the terms of a compromise.
Charts by Austin Bureau. Data provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.