President Donald Trump remains committed to building the 2,000-mile wall along the U.S.-Mexico border despite a significant drop in border apprehensions.
Leading advocacy groups have been pushing back against the administration’s claim that it’s already slashed illegal immigration after just a month of office.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced late Wednesday that apprehensions have dropped 40 percent since Trump was sworn in, issuing a series of executive orders that aggressively clamped down on immigration. But advocates warned the administration against declaring victory so quickly when there are many factors that need to be considered.
“This seems like kind of a ‘Mission Accomplished’ moment,” said Philip Wolgin, managing director for immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal Washington think tank, referring to the banner that hung behind former President George W. Bush when he prematurely declared the Iraq war over from the deck of an aircraft carrier.
“They’re claiming already that they’re seeing a drop and, if not saying it outright, at least significantly hinting this has to do with their new policies,” Wolgin added. “It’s premature.”
Trump made deporting those in the United States illegally and stemming the influx of new arrivals a centerpiece of his campaign for the presidency. In announcing the new numbers, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said they decrease meant that fewer people are risking their lives to make the dangerous journey north.
Kelly’s statement said the Border Patrol reported only 18,762 apprehensions in Febraury, down dramatically from the 31,578 detentions in January.
This seems like kind of a ‘Mission Accomplished’ moment.
Philip Wolgin, Center for American Progress
Likely even more relevant, the new numbers reflected a 36 percent drop from February of last year.
“The early results show that enforcement matters, deterrence matters, and that comprehensive immigration enforcement can make an impact,” Kelly wrote.
Wolgin noted that the number of migrants apprehended at the U.S. border has decreased substantially over the last decade, when 1.2 million migrants were apprehended in 2006. Last year, a total of 415,816 apprehensions were recorded.
Critics, however, said the decline being touted by the administration also calls into question the need for the Department of Homeland Security to hire 15,000 additional immigration agents and build a massive border wall. Both initiatives would cost billions.
“This certainly calls into question the logic of why you would need to expand the wall in the first place,” said Maureen Meyer, a migration expert at the Washington Office of Latin America.
But Trump remains committed to building the wall, according to White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. It’s a promise Trump plans to keep, Spicer said.
“The president made a commitment to the American people to make sure that this isn't just an anomaly and that while they may be down, I think we have to do what we can to protect our country both in terms of national security and economic security,” Spicer said.
The president made a commitment to the American people.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer
Immigration attorney Bryan Johnson thinks the decline in apprehensions is likely an anomaly as migrants and human smugglers adapt to the administration’s new immigration policies. He noted that the Obama administration also bragged about drops in apprehensions in 2015 after introducing a package of new policies to combat a 2014 surge in migration from Central America.
The administration added more law enforcement at the border, sped up court hearings for children and families, revived the practice of family detention and pressed Mexico to increase enforcement of its own southern border with Central American countries.
In fact, total U.S apprehensions dropped 31 percent in 2015 to 337,117, as more Central Americans were deported by the Mexican government than by the U.S. government, according to the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute.
But in 2016, apprehensions jumped to more than 415,000.
“It shows smugglers and migrants will adapt to very extreme circumstances when necessary,” Johnson said. “The ingenuity of humans when they have to save their lives is endless and much more than law enforcement.”