Southwest Border Summer Apprehensions Reflect Ineffective Policy Changes
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By Sylvia Longmire
Columnist, In Homeland Security
U.S. Border Patrol agents are used to seeing cycles in migrant apprehensions along the Southwest border. The amount of work they have to do is usually affected by two things — the weather and White House policy. However, in the past two years, it appears that despite stringent measures by the Trump administration to deter illegal immigration, policy changes are having less of an impact on border apprehension numbers than the security and economic needs of Central American migrants.
Life-Threatening Border-Crossing Heat
Summer is the most difficult time of year for immigrants from Central America to attempts a border crossing into the United States. The heat and conditions in the Mexican desert can be life-threatening, so apprehension numbers usually take a dip during these months. Trust administration officials were keeping a keen eye on these numbers, however, because of the “zero tolerance” policy the White House enacted in April 2018.
The policy was rescinded in May 2018 because of controversy over the separation of family members. However, despite the policy being in effect for over a month, apprehension numbers in May and June couldn’t be directly attributed to this strict policy. Despite August being one of the hottest months of the year, Southwest border apprehension numbers for family units that month increased by 38 percent from July. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) stated in a press release that the migration numbers “show a clear indicator that the migration flows are responding to gaps in our nation’s legal framework.”
Human Smugglers and Traffickers
DHS specifically mentioned in the press release that “human smugglers and traffickers know that if a family unit illegally enters the U.S., they are likely to be released into the interior.” The wording of the press release basically implies that if U.S. immigration laws were more stringent, then apprehension numbers would be lower because fewer immigrants would be trying to cross the southwest border illegally. However, this implication flies in the face of years of history demonstrating that policy changes often have little impact on migration flows to the north. Those flows are more often dictated by country conditions in migrants’ origin countries and what human smugglers are telling their charges about how they will be received once they cross the border.
Rising Number of Border Apprehensions
Apprehensions along the Southwest border did actually decrease significantly in the months following President Trump’s election. However, starting in April 2017, those numbers started to rise every month and have been steadily increasing ever since. Apprehensions for fiscal year 2018 have already eclipsed the numbers for fiscal year 2017, and there’s a good chance that monthly numbers for October will be even higher than September 2018.
Two years ago in October 2016, this cycle played out in yet another border “surge” crisis. Apprehension numbers were at a historical high, and critics were blaming the Obama administration for allowing migrants to believe that DHS was granting passes or permits to family units and unaccompanied children. While no such passes existed, this was the line that human smugglers were feeding migrants in Central America in order to convince them to pay several thousand dollars in smuggling fees to be escorted to the border.
The Complexity of Migration Flows
While the Trump administration will likely continue to blame the U.S. immigration legal framework for changing apprehension numbers, it would be wise for officials to pay closer attention to the complexity of migration flows. This includes acknowledging the significant role that Mexican drug cartels and the human smugglers they employ play in influencing the perception of the people who pay for their services.
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