Ap­pre­hen­sions at U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der de­cline

Num­ber of would-be im­mi­grants caught plunges 40% un­der Trump in sea­son that usu­ally sees a surge.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Jenny Jarvie

AT­LANTA — The num­ber of im­mi­grants caught by Bor­der Pa­trol agents while at­tempt­ing to cross the South­west bor­der has plunged dra­mat­i­cally, drop­ping 40% since Pres­i­dent Trump took of­fice and signed sweep­ing ex­ec­u­tive or­ders to en­force im­mi­gra­tion laws.

About 840 peo­ple a day were caught try­ing to cross the bor­der or deemed in­ad­mis­si­ble af­ter pre­sent­ing them­selves at a port of en­try in Fe­bru­ary, down from about 1,370 a day in Jan­uary, ac­cord­ing to new fig­ures re­leased by U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion.

Although there are of­ten sea­sonal fluc­tu­a­tions — fewer im­mi­grants usu­ally at­tempt to cross the bor­der from Mex­ico into the U.S. in win­ter — Bor­der Pa­trol agents typ­i­cally see a 10% to 20% surge in at­tempts in Fe­bru­ary.

Al­ready, Trump’s sup­port­ers and lead­ing mem­bers of his ad­min­is­tra­tion are cel­e­brat­ing the new data as an early pay­off of the new pres­i­dent’s hard-line stance on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion.

“The early re­sults show that en­force­ment mat­ters, de­ter­rence mat­ters, and that com­pre­hen­sive im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment can make an im­pact,” Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary John F. Kelly said, cit­ing it as “en­cour­ag­ing news.”

“Fewer peo­ple are putting them­selves and their fam­i­lies at risk of ex­ploita­tion, as­sault and in­jury by hu­man traf­fick­ers and the phys­i­cal dan­gers of the treach­er­ous jour­ney north,” he added.

Although the drop is sig­nif­i­cant and larger than ex­pected, mi­gra­tion pol­icy ex­perts say it is too early to as­sume a long-term trend — par­tic­u­larly be­fore many of the key mea­sures of Trump’s ex­ec­u­tive or­ders have taken ef­fect.

“What we’re see­ing is really about per­cep­tion,”

said Faye Hips­man, a pol­icy an­a­lyst at the Mi­gra­tion Pol­icy In­sti­tute, a non­par­ti­san think tank based in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. “The or­ders of­fer the pos­si­bil­ity of very mean­ing­ful changes at the bor­der — in­creased de­ten­tions, more peo­ple sub­ject to rapid de­por­ta­tions — so that cre­ates a per­cep­tion that it’s more dif­fi­cult to reach the United States. More im­por­tantly, there’s a lot of fear in­side the U.S., and those feed­back loops reach peo­ple who are think­ing about mak­ing the jour­ney.”

How­ever, Hips­man cau­tioned, typ­i­cally each time the gov­ern­ment adopts new im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment mea­sures — for ex­am­ple, build­ing de­ten­tion cen­ters to ac­com­mo­date the surge of Cen­tral Amer­i­can women and chil­dren — the num­bers fall, only to re­bound, in some cases higher than be­fore.

While the new ad­min­is­tra­tion’s rhetoric on im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment may, in the short term, be a strong de­ter­rent to peo­ple who are think­ing of com­ing to the U.S., the long-term reper­cus­sions of Trump’s poli­cies are not likely to be seen for months and years, said Jes­sica Vaughan, di­rec­tor of pol­icy stud­ies at the Cen­ter for Im­mi­gra­tion Stud­ies, a con­ser­va­tive Wash­ing­ton­based re­search in­sti­tute that ad­vo­cates stricter im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy.

In ad­di­tion to in­stalling more phys­i­cal bar­ri­ers such as walls and fences along the bor­der, Vaughan said longterm suc­cess in de­ter­ring il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion would de­pend on whether the fed­eral gov­ern­ment ended “catch and re­lease,” the un­of­fi­cial name for a pol­icy in which im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials al­low im­mi­grants they deem lowrisk to re­main at large pend­ing a hear­ing. It also would re­quire stricter en­force­ment within the U.S., es­pe­cially in work­places, she said.

“When it’s much more dif­fi­cult to get a job and live here legally, peo­ple will sim­ply de­cide it’s not worth com­ing,” Vaughan said.

Ad­vo­cates for im­mi­grants say the data raise new ques­tions about what is hap­pen­ing to im­mi­grants cross­ing the bor­der il­le­gally, par­tic­u­larly asy­lum seek­ers — fam­i­lies and un­ac­com­pa­nied chil­dren flee­ing poverty and vi­o­lence in Cen­tral Amer­ica and be­yond.

The de­cline in the num­bers of those mi­grants was es­pe­cially sharp: An av­er­age of 442 fam­i­lies and un­ac­com­pa­nied chil­dren were caught cross­ing the bor­der ev­ery day in Jan­uary; that fell to 180 a day in Fe­bru­ary. And the num­ber pre­sent­ing them­selves at a port of en­try dropped from 107 a day to 47.

“We do not know where they are now,” said Amy Fis­cher, pol­icy di­rec­tor at the Refugee and Im­mi­grant Cen­ter for Ed­u­ca­tion and Le­gal Ser­vices in San An­to­nio. “We know the con­di­tions in their home coun­tries have not changed dras­ti­cally. Why are they not com­ing? That’s the key ques­tion here. We do not have the an­swers.”

Although it’s pos­si­ble that asy­lum seek­ers are now look­ing for new and dif­fer­ent av­enues to win asy­lum, Fis­cher said, her or­ga­ni­za­tion had also seen ev­i­dence of ef­forts to turn peo­ple away at the bor­der. A hand­ful of peo­ple in­ter­viewed at fam­ily de­ten­tion cen­ters in Texas, she said, re­ported they had been turned away at the port of en­try or told to come back an­other day be­fore try­ing to cross the river.

“We don’t know if es­sen­tially what’s going on is an in­crease in the col­lu­sion be­tween Mex­i­can and U.S. au­thor­i­ties to turn peo­ple away at the bor­der so they are not counted as ap­pre­hen­sions,” she said. “Through­out his­tory, the U.S. has al­ways been a safe place where peo­ple seek­ing pro­tec­tion can go. If that’s chang­ing, look at what mes­sage that is send­ing to the rest of the world.”

In Fe­bru­ary, a to­tal of 18,762 mi­grants were caught as they crossed or at­tempted to cross the South­west bor­der, com­pared with 31,578 in Jan­uary, 43,255 in De­cem­ber and 47,210 in Novem­ber. The num­ber of peo­ple who pre­sented them­selves at ports of en­try and were deemed in­ad­mis­si­ble dropped to 4,808, com­pared with 10,899 in Jan­uary, 15,176 in De­cem­ber and 16,153 in Novem­ber.

The drop was stark at the busiest stretch of the bor­der — the Rio Grande Val­ley sec­tor — which in re­cent years has seen a surge in fam­i­lies and un­ac­com­pa­nied chil­dren from Hon­duras, El Sal­vador and Gu­atemala. About 280 peo­ple a day were ap­pre­hended in the Rio Grande Val­ley in Fe­bru­ary, com­pared with 502 in Jan­uary and 755 in De­cem­ber.

“When you start de­tain­ing peo­ple and de­port­ing peo­ple, peo­ple stop com­ing in great masses,” Manuel Padilla, chief of the Bor­der Pa­trol’s Rio Grande Val­ley sec­tor, said in a tele­phone in­ter­view. “We’ve seen that his­tor­i­cally through­out the years. We’re de­port­ing peo­ple ex­pe­di­tiously, and just the fact that we’re do­ing that and the fact the ad­min­is­tra­tion is mes­sag­ing that, they have quit com­ing in the same num­bers.”

Al­ready, num­bers have dropped to the point that fed­eral au­thor­i­ties have closed two mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar hold­ing fa­cil­i­ties — one in Donna, Texas, near McAllen, and one in Tornillo, near El Paso — built just a few months ago to help pro­vide tem­po­rary shel­ter for the in­flux of mi­grants cross­ing the bor­der.

“You can very dis­tinctly see the de­crease in traf­fic be­cause of the change in pol­icy and ex­ec­u­tive or­ders” since Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion, Padilla said. “If we con­tinue in en­forc­ing the im­mi­gra­tion law and we con­tinue build­ing up the re­sources to de­tect and re­spond, I ex­pect man­age­able num­bers.”

Last year, bor­der agents also saw an un­prece­dented surge in long-dis­tance mi­grants mak­ing the jour­ney from coun­tries as far-flung as Haiti, In­dia, Bangladesh and parts of Africa. About 15,000 mi­grants from out­side Latin Amer­ica crossed through Baja Cal­i­for­nia last year, nearly five times as many as in 2015.

Yet that has dropped dra­mat­i­cally in re­cent months, Hips­man said — not sim­ply be­cause of Trump’s ex­ec­u­tive or­ders, but be­cause the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion tight­ened pol­icy, ex­pe­dit­ing de­por­ta­tions to Haiti, at the end of 2016.

“In some ways, it’s not sur­pris­ing that the num­bers have dropped in re­sponse to the rhetoric by Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion,” Hips­man said. “But it’s far from cer­tain that will be sus­tained.”

Carolyn Cole Los An­ge­les Times

TWO WOULD-BE bor­der crossers turn back Jan. 27 at a bridge from Hi­dalgo, Texas, to Mex­ico. Bor­der Pa­trol agents later de­tained them.

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