White House

Border apprehensions surge as immigrants try to get in before Trump’s wall advances

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents pick up immigrants suspected of crossing into the United States illegally along the Rio Grande near Granjeno, Texas on Aug. 11, 2017, photo.
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents pick up immigrants suspected of crossing into the United States illegally along the Rio Grande near Granjeno, Texas on Aug. 11, 2017, photo. AP

The Trump administration has dramatically picked up the pace of border apprehensions, catching thousands more migrants trying to enter the country illegally or seeking asylum.

But the surge in arrests, a 60 percent increase over the summer, also means thousands more people are getting into the country illegally, increasing pressure on President Donald Trump’s team to clamp down even harder on the southern border.

The Department of Homeland Security commonly uses apprehensions as a proxy measure of illegal immigration. That’s based on a belief that the proportion of people apprehended while trying to enter illegally is constant, and therefore also reflects the number of total crossings.

After hitting a 17-year low in April, border agents have seen apprehensions climb from 11,125 to nearly 22,300 people in August, as people rushed to enter before Trump builds a long-promised security wall and enacts tougher border-security measures.

An additional 8,300 people turned themselves in at border stations, seeking asylum or other forms of assistance.

“They’ve definitely began creeping back up,” a U.S. official said of the numbers. “They’re still low compared to recent years, but when you look at the calendar they’re trending in a surprising direction. They’re trending up.”

They’ve definitely began creeping back up.

U.S. official familiar with the numbers

The biggest increase this year has been among Central American families. The U.S. official said it makes sense that these numbers are trending up considering the population has benefited from a policy that offers greater protections for Central American children and parents when they can demonstrate credible fear of returning to their country.

“People may be figuring that out,” the official said. “They may have assumed that it was going to be worse than it is.”

While August apprehensions are up compared to April, they are 41 percent lower than August 2016. Year to date, apprehensions are 24 percent down versus the same period in 2016.

Trump has adjusted his positions on some issues since entering the White House, but he has not backed down from his tough stance on undocumented immigrants. He maintains that a massive southwest border wall will be built and says any new immigration policy must be accompanied with strong border enforcement.

The White House is expected to ask Congress to approve a series of proposals to clamp down on illegal immigration in exchange for allowing hundreds of thousands of young people brought into the country illegally as children, known as Dreamers, to stay here, according to guidelines obtained by McClatchy.

Experts expect the apprehensions to continue to rise as smugglers adapt to policy changes and pursue opportunities in hurricane ravished areas.

Bryan Johnson, a New York immigration lawyer who represents about a dozen immigrants who arrived as unaccompanied minors and who have been labeled MS-13 gang members, said it’s natural for smugglers to take time at the beginning of a new administration to see how promised changes are implemented.

“This is a sign that the deterrence talk can only have so much effect,” Johnson said. “A lot of this is huffing and puffing and it’s not real. They’re inflating the fruits of their work.”

Workers will also see an an “enormous number of jobs” that are being created in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Jenna Hamilton, a home building consultant with Capitol Investment Strategies, said the industry is already seeing labor shortages in states like Arizona as workers leave for opportunities in Texas. They will likely also come from Mexico and Central America, she said.

“After Katrina, we know that a lot of workers came in,” she said. “There is a lot of skilled trades people in Mexico and Central and South America. They’re going to come because they know there is going to be work.”

President Donald Trump told reporters before he left for Florida on Sept. 14, 2017 that funding "The Wall" would come after a plan for DACA but also said that samples of the proposed border wall between the U.S. and Mexico were being constructed.