De­ten­tions spike, bor­der ar­rests fall in Trump's first year

El Dorado News-Times - - National -

WASHINGTON (AP) — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump's im­mi­gra­tion crack­down has pro­duced a spike in de­ten­tions by de­por­ta­tion of­fi­cers across the coun­try dur­ing his first months in of­fice. At the same time, ar­rests along the Mex­i­can bor­der have fallen sharply, ap­par­ently as fewer peo­ple have tried to sneak into the U.S.

Fig­ures released by the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity on Tues­day show Trump is de­liv­er­ing on his pledge to more strictly control im­mi­gra­tion and sug­gest that would-be im­mi­grants are get­ting the mes­sage to not even think about cross­ing the bor­der il­le­gally.

Even as bor­der cross­ings de­cline, how­ever, Trump con­tin­ues to push for his promised wall along the bor­der — a wall that crit­ics say is un­nec­es­sary and a waste of cash.

The new num­bers, which of­fer the most com­plete snap­shot yet of im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment under Trump, show that Bor­der Pa­trol ar­rests plunged to a 45-year low in the fis­cal year that ended Sept. 30, with far fewer peo­ple be­ing ap­pre­hended be­tween of­fi­cial bor­der cross­ings.

In all, the Bor­der Pa­trol made 310,531 ar­rests in fis­cal 2016, down 25 per­cent from a year ear­lier and the low­est level since 1971.

Of­fi­cials have cred­ited that drop to Trump's harsh anti-im­mi­gra­tion rhetoric and poli­cies, in­clud­ing widely pub­li­cized ar­rests of im­mi­grants liv­ing in the U.S. il­le­gally.

"There's a new recog­ni­tion by would-be im­mi­grants that the U.S. is not hang­ing up a wel­come sign," said Michelle Mit­tel­stadt, of the non-par­ti­san Mi­gra­tion Pol­icy In­sti­tute think tank. She pointed to Trump's rhetoric, as well as his poli­cies. "I think there's a sense that the U.S. is less hos­pitable."

But Mit­tel­stadt also stressed that the num­bers are part of a larger trend that be­gan well be­fore Trump's in­au­gu­ra­tion: Mex­ico's im­prov­ing econ­omy and more op­por­tu­ni­ties at home have stemmed the tide of peo­ple flow­ing across the bor­der for work.

"You've re­ally had a re­align­ment in mi­gra­tion from Mex­ico," she said, not­ing that the num­bers of Mex­i­cans ap­pre­hended in 2017 fell by 34 per­cent from the pre­vi­ous year.

The de­cline in bor­der cross­ings con­tin­ues a trend that be­gan dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, and marks a dra­matic drop from 2000, when more than 1.6 mil­lion peo­ple were ap­pre­hended cross­ing the south­west bor­der alone.

Over­all, U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment said, de­por­ta­tions over the last year dropped about 6 per­cent from the pre­vi­ous year — a num­ber tied to the sharp de­cline in bor­der cross­ings as well as a back­log in the im­mi­gra­tion courts that process de­por­ta­tions.

But that num­ber masks a strik­ing uptick in ar­rests away from the bor­der. Those ar­rests have sparked fear and anger in im­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties, where many worry the gov­ern­ment is now tar­get­ing them.

ICE said the num­ber of "in­te­rior re­movals" — peo­ple who are ap­pre­hended away from the bor­der — jumped 25 per­cent this year to 81,603. And the in­crease is 37 per­cent after Trump's in­au­gu­ra­tion com­pared to the same pe­riod the year be­fore.

"The pres­i­dent made it clear in his ex­ec­u­tive or­ders: There's no pop­u­la­tion off the ta­ble," Thomas Ho­man, ICE's act­ing di­rec­tor, told re­porters in Washington on Tues­day. "If you're in this coun­try il­le­gally, we're look­ing for you and we're go­ing to look to ap­pre­hend you."

In Fe­bru­ary, for­mer Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary John Kelly, who now serves as Trump's chief of staff, scrapped the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion's pol­icy of lim­it­ing de­por­ta­tions to peo­ple who pose a pub­lic safety threat, con­victed crim­i­nals and those who have crossed the bor­der re­cently, ef­fec­tively mak­ing any­one in the coun­try il­le­gally vul­ner­a­ble to ap­pre­hen­sion.

Trump cam­paigned as an im­mi­gra­tion hard-liner, ac­cus­ing Mex­ico of send­ing rapists and other crim­i­nals to the U.S. and promis­ing to build "a great wall on our south­ern bor­der." As pres­i­dent, he has signed a se­ries of travel bans aimed at cur­tail­ing who can en­ter the coun­try, pushed to over­haul the le­gal im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem and tried to crack down on so-called sanc­tu­ary cities that refuse to share in­for­ma­tion about il­le­gal im­mi­grants with fed­eral au­thor­i­ties. He has also pushed for fund­ing for his bor­der wall.

The new num­bers, which in­clude the last months of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, pro­vide new am­mu­ni­tion to Trump crit­ics who question the need to spend bil­lions of dol­lars on a bor­der wall if cross­ings are al­ready drop­ping. But of­fi­cials in­sisted the wall was still needed.

"Yeah, the traf­fic is down. That's a good thing," said Ron­ald Vi­tiello, the act­ing deputy com­mis­sioner of Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion. But, "to take the 1,000 ar­rests a day to say that we're fin­ished, it's not stat­ing what the facts are. We're still ar­rest­ing nearly 1,000 peo­ple a day com­ing across the bor­der," he said.

Demo­cratic Rep. Ben­nie Thomp­son of Mis­sis­sippi saw it dif­fer­ently.

"The ad­min­is­tra­tion can try to twist these num­bers into whatever they please," he said. "But the fact re­mains that after un­prece­dented in­vest­ments in bor­der se­cu­rity over the last decade, the bor­der has be­come harder to cross and fewer peo­ple are try­ing."

De­spite the over­all de­cline in bor­der ar­rests, the num­bers have in­creased ev­ery month since May and many of those ap­pre­hended have been fam­i­lies and un­ac­com­pa­nied chil­dren.

The ac­tual num­ber of il­le­gal bor­ders cross­ings isn't known be­cause many peo­ple slip in un­de­tected. Im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties caught just over half of the peo­ple who il­le­gally en­tered the U.S. from Mex­ico in 2015, ac­cord­ing to a re­port com­mis­sioned by the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity. That's much lower than the suc­cess rate DHS had cited pub­licly.

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