Back in May, I wrote about the positive effect that President Trump's rhetoric was having on immigration enforcement, and in particular on dissuading aliens from entering illegally along the Southwest border.
That effect appears to be waning, however, at least to a degree.
For example, the total number of aliens apprehended by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) along the Southwest border reached a low for FY 2017 in April, when 11,125 aliens were caught. That was down from a high of 47,210 aliens for the fiscal year in November 2016, but the number of aliens apprehended by CBP has slowly increased since April. Specifically, in May, 14,520 aliens were apprehended by the agency; in June, 16,087 aliens were apprehended; in July, 18,190 aliens were apprehended; and by August, the number of aliens who were apprehended along the Southwest border had increased to 22,293. This represents a 49 percent increase in apprehensions of aliens attempting illegal entry along the Southwest border between April and August.
There has been a similar trend among aliens who are deemed inadmissible after presenting themselves at ports of entry on the Southwest Border seeking entry. The number of aliens deemed inadmissible by CBP reached a low of 4,394 aliens in March, before increasing to 4,646 in April; 5,425 aliens in May; 5,570 aliens in June; 6,835 in July; and 8,283 in August. This represents a 53 percent increase in aliens seeking entry at the ports of entry who are deemed inadmissible by the agency between March and August 2017.
Finally, the number of credible fear receipts reached a high of 10,184 for FY 2017 in October 2016. While credible fear receipts dropped to a low of 2,509 in April 2017, they have gradually climbed ever since, to 3,900 in May 2017 and 4,179 in June 2017, the last month for which statistics are available. This represents a 60 percent increase in credible fear cases in just three months.
Experts to whom I spoke during my recent border tour expressed a number of different reasons for the increase in aliens seeking illegal entry and claiming credible fear in recent months. The most prevalent is that aliens were frightened off initially by the president's rhetoric about immigration enforcement (particularly on the campaign trail), but that as time has passed and aliens have been able to successfully enter illegally, word has spread that illegal entry is still possible. Similarly, I was told that alien smugglers decided to wait before probing the border for weaknesses under the new administration; now that those weak points have been identified, it was said, they are being exploited.
One weak point is the credible fear process. While the current percentage of cases in which credible fear was found in June 2017 (68 percent) is lower than it was in October 2016 (81 percent), attempting illegal entry and then claiming credible fear if caught is still a reasonable option.
The Trump administration needs to track these trends, and respond to them forcefully, or else we will return to the rates of illegal entry that we saw under the Obama administration. One response would be to increase detention along the border, and ensure that there are sufficient resources to screen each alien who is apprehended seeking entry illegally. Another would be an expansion of criminal prosecution for aliens who have entered illegally, and/or an expansion of expedited removal.
If the administration fails to practice what the president has preached, however, the gains that have been made in immigration enforcement in the last eight months will be lost.