Bor­der se­cu­rity progress slips; il­le­gal cross­ings spike

Of­fi­cials cap­ture 78,000 more in 2016

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY STEPHEN DINAN

Nearly 409,000 il­le­gal im­mi­grants were nabbed at the bor­der in fis­cal year 2016 — up from about 331,000 a year ear­lier — and Home­land Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials say the in­creased ar­rests also mean an in­crease in the num­ber that are sneak­ing by them.

Worse yet, the num­ber of il­le­gal im­mi­grants trav­el­ing as fam­i­lies, flee­ing rough con­di­tions in Cen­tral Amer­ica and en­ticed by the prom­ise of lax en­force­ment in the United States, reached a record high of 77,674. Un­ac­com­pa­nied mi­nors — those chil­dren trav­el­ing with­out their par­ents — also rose to nearly 60,000, though that was still shy of the record set in 2014.

“Un­ac­com­pa­nied chil­dren and fam­i­lies have pre­sented new chal­lenges in our im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem,” Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Jeh John­son said in a state­ment an­nounc­ing the num­bers.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion made sig­nif­i­cant progress in se­cur­ing the bor­der in 2015, as the num­ber of un­ac­com­pa­nied mi­nors, fam­i­lies and over­all il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion dropped sig­nif­i­cantly. To­tal ap­pre­hen­sions fell to their low­est point since the 1970s.

But things turned around for the worse over the past year.

Some an­a­lysts cite re­laxed en­force­ment in the United States as a cause, say­ing car­tels and would-be mi­grants have learned to game the more re­laxed sys­tem un­der Pres­i­dent Obama.

Claims of asy­lum have spiked, earn­ing il­le­gal im­mi­grants a chance to re­main in the United States while they fight their cases, and of­ten­times dis­ap­pear into the shad­ows.

Mean­while, de­por­ta­tions have plum­meted dur­ing Mr. Obama’s sec­ond term. Fi­nal 2016 num­bers haven’t been re­leased, but an­a­lysts were ex­pect­ing the fourth straight year of de­clin­ing re­movals.

Mr. John­son said he’s try­ing to bal­ance com­pet­ing fac­tors of de­port­ing new ar­rivals, while giv­ing those with le­git­i­mate claims of hu­man­i­tar­ian crises a chance to make their cases.

The sec­re­tary said the govern­ment does need more tech­nol­ogy and equip­ment on the bor­der, but said that’s not go­ing to be enough — and he took a swipe at Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Don­ald Trump, who has pro­posed a bor­der wall to stop the new flow of il­le­gal im­mi­grants.

“Walls alone can­not pre­vent il­le­gal mi­gra­tion,” Mr. John­son said. “Ul­ti­mately, the so­lu­tion is long-term in­vest­ment in Cen­tral Amer­ica to ad­dress the un­der­ly­ing push fac­tors in the re­gion.”

The de­mo­graph­ics of il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion across the bor­der have changed dra­mat­i­cally over the last decade. Mex­i­cans used to make up most of those caught, but in 2014 Cen­tral Amer­i­cans out­num­bered Mex­i­cans for the first time. That re­mained true in 2016.

El­yse Golob, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Cen­ter for Bor­der Se­cu­rity and Im­mi­gra­tion at the Univer­sity of Ari­zona, said the 2008 eco­nomic re­ces­sion here, com­bined with stead­ier eco­nomic growth and a fall­ing birth rate in Mex­ico, have changed the in­cen­tives for Mex­i­can mi­gra­tion.

At the same time, high mur­der, vi­o­lence and un­em­ploy­ment rates in El Sal­vador, Gu­atemala and Hon­duras have fed the surge of mi­grants from those coun­tries headed north.

That’s also af­fected which parts of the bor­der are see­ing the most ac­tiv­ity.

The Yuma sec­tor, in western Ari­zona, had been a suc­cess story in the pre­vi­ous decade, but saw the num­ber of fam­ily mem­bers try­ing to sneak in grow ten­fold, from just 675 in 2014 to 6,169 in 2016. Mean­while, the Tuc­son sec­tor, which 10 years ago was ground zero for il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, has seen its ap­pre­hen­sions fall pre­cip­i­tously.

Most of the ac­tion is now in the Rio Grande sec­tor, which ac­counts for about half of the il­le­gal im­mi­grant traf­fic.

Home­land Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials last year had pre­dicted a surge, par­tic­u­larly among fam­i­lies at­tempt­ing to make the jour­ney. In court doc­u­ments, they said ju­di­cial rul­ings pro­hibit­ing de­ten­tion of some il­le­gal im­mi­grants would en­tice even more to make the trip.

Ms. Golob said it’s im­pos­si­ble to sep­a­rate the push and pull fac­tors, but said it’s clear there’s been a shift in the think­ing of those pon­der­ing the jour­ney in the key Cen­tral Amer­i­can coun­tries.

In the past, the dan­gers of the trip and the threat of de­por­ta­tion were enough to keep more of them home, but es­ca­lat­ing vi­o­lence and lack of op­por­tu­ni­ties at home, com­bined with word-of-mouth sto­ries from rel­a­tives and friends who have gained a foothold in the United States, have changed things.

“There’s no doubt that news moves through the grapevine,” Ms. Golob said. “When peo­ple hear about un­ac­com­pa­nied chil­dren and fam­ily units be­ing placed in de­ten­tion courts and about the over­load in the im­mi­gra­tion courts that re­sults in peo­ple stay­ing here, of­ten for years, that fil­ters back to the Cen­tral Amer­i­can coun­tries, and may lead to a per­cep­tion, right­ful or not, that the chances of re­main­ing in the coun­try now are bet­ter than ever.”

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