Illegal immigration across the southwest border appears to have dipped in July — but the number of families trying to sneak in is still stubbornly high, suggesting the administration’s zero-tolerance crackdown failed to dissuade smugglers or would-be migrants contemplating the journey.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced Wednesday that fewer than 40,000 unauthorized migrants were nabbed at the southwest border in July. That’s down 7 percent from June and down more than 20 percent compared to the March-May spike that sent the Trump administration scrambling.
Big strides have also been made in cutting the number of children jumping the border unaccompanied by parents.
But parents trying to sneak in with their children — so-called “family units” — have remained unusually high, at between 9,000 and 10,000 per month, for the last four months.
Those are the migrants that President Trump and his top aides were trying to dissuade with the zero-tolerance prosecution policy, figuring that jailing the parents, resulting in them being separated from their children, would cause them to think twice about jumping the border. Officials told them instead to show up at official entry points and ask for asylum.
The numbers show just the opposite has happened, with three out of every four families trying to sneak between the ports of entry as traditional illegal immigrants — up 24 percent compared to before the zero-tolerance policy took effect.
A senior Homeland Security official said there are several factors, including “confusing” messages from advocacy groups and media reports, and continued dominance by smugglers, who decide where and how most illegal immigrants will cross into the U.S.
“A lot of these family units we see are in the grips of smugglers the entirety of their route,” the official said.
The administration says smugglers and the migrants themselves are taking advantage of “loopholes” in U.S. law and policy that impose more lenient treatment on illegal immigrants who show up with children in tow.
Single adult migrants are usually held in detention, making it easier to remove them when their deportation cases have run their course. But under a 2015 court ruling, when families arrive with children, the juveniles must be quickly released. In order not to separate the families, the parents also get quickly released — and they usually disappear into the shadows, rarely showing up for deportation.
The 9,258 family units caught by the Border Patrol in July is 170 percent more than were nabbed in the same month last year.
Most of the families are coming from Central America, and the majority of them try to jump the border in southern Texas — though Arizona has also seen a surge this year.
The senior government official said those decisions are controlled by the smugglers, who appear to be pushing families from Guatemala, as well as those from outside the western hemisphere, toward the deserts of western Arizona.
The official said Homeland Security doesn’t yet have a sense for why the number of Unaccompanied Alien Children encountered at the border has dipped. That number dropped 21 percent from June to July. The previous three years the number had actually increased between those two months.
The government says the more people caught, the more who likely made it across without being detected — so an increase in apprehensions suggests things are getting worse, while the drop suggests improvements.
The official said the seasonal patterns that used to govern the illegal border traffic have disappeared since 2014, when the surge of children and families first overwhelmed the Obama administration and exposed major holes in immigration enforcement policy.
“It seems to be more of a reaction to law and policy and possibility of success than specifically to seasonal issues,” the official said.
Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.