Latest DHS Stats Show There Is Still No Crisis At The Border
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There is no illegal immigration crisis at the border justifying extreme actions, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) own data. That was true even before the latest release of border statistics showing illegal cross-border migration declined by 18% from May to June 2018.
The Trump administration issued a press statement on July 5, 2018, claiming administration policies that caused thousands of parents to be separated from their children deserve credit for the decline at the border. “Following the implementation of the Administration’s zero-tolerance policy, the June 2018 Southwest Border Migration numbers declined by 18 percent when compared to the previous month,” said DHS Press Secretary Tyler Q. Houlton. However, on the same day, U.S. Customs and Border Protection contradicted the DHS statement, writing, “This decline follows the overall downward trend for this time of year (from May to June).” (Emphasis added.)
Table 1: Southwest Border Apprehensions and Individuals “Inadmissible” at Ports of Entry May to June by Fiscal Year
|Year||May||June||% Change||Numerical Change|
Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Percentages rounded off.
Table 1 shows the decline from May to June 2018 is in line with the previous 5 years. In fact, in 3 of the 5 previous years the June numbers were actually lower than in June 2018. The numbers on what U.S. Customs and Border Protection classify as “illegal cross-border migration” refer to the combined number of apprehensions near the Southwest border and individuals deemed “inadmissible” at ports of entry. “The 2018 decline between May and June is nearly the same in both count and percentage as occurred between May and June in both 2016 and 2013,” notes Mark Regets, a senior fellow at the National Foundation for American Policy. “While this is part of a decline in illegal immigration that has been ongoing for many years, it is hard to call it a triumph of policy when there were actually lower numbers during June in 3 of the 5 years prior to June 2018.”
Donald Trump and others in his administration have said there is an “illegal immigration crisis on the southern border.” However, as discussed in a recent analysis of the numbers, from October through May 2018 (the current fiscal year), illegal cross-border migration was only about 11% higher than at the same point last year – and the administration said last year was the “lowest level” on record. A December 2017 report from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), part of the Department of Homeland Security, stated: “In FY17, CBP recorded the lowest level of illegal cross-border migration on record, as measured by apprehensions along the border and inadmissible encounters at U.S. ports of entry.” (Emphasis added.)
The separation of children, which has received widespread criticism from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, was due to a “zero tolerance” policy under which the Trump administration prosecuted individuals for the misdemeanor offense of crossing the border illegally and removed children who were with a mother or father when apprehended. (See here and here.) A judge has ordered the administration to reunite children with their parents.
Table 2: Southwest Border Apprehensions and Individuals “Inadmissible” at Ports of Entry Compared by Fiscal Year
Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The administration’s new approach in court (and in a presidential executive order) is to seek the indefinite detention of parents and children. Even much higher numbers at the border would fail to justify a policy that either separates children from their parents or detains families indefinitely together. (See this report on a mother and child separated for 55 days before finally being reunited.)
Detaining children or individuals seeking asylum for long periods of time is harmful and unnecessary. Placing children in detention longer than 20 days also would almost certainly violate a 1997 consent decree known as the Flores settlement. “Detention can be very harmful to children,” according to Fatma E. Marouf, a law professor at the Texas A&M University School of Law. “We should keep in mind that many of these children have already experienced violence, abuse, and trauma in their home countries, as well as on their dangerous journey to the United States.”
There is a false choice between a policy of “catch and release,” as critics call it, and detaining asylum seekers indefinitely. “Studies have shown high rates of attendance at immigration court hearings and compliance with deportation orders if immigrants are provided with some type of case management to help them understand the process,” notes Professor Marouf. “Additionally, ICE’s ‘full service’ electronic monitoring program, which combines a GPS monitoring device (i.e., ‘ankle bracelet’) with case management, has a compliance rate of 99.9% for all court hearings and costs only about $8/person each day, compared to around $180/person for detention.”
Bottom line: The numbers show there is no illegal immigration crisis at the border. The administration should establish (or reestablish) in-country processing for those seeking protection as refugees and work with the countries in Central America to reduce the violence causing people to flee. For individuals coming for economic reasons, we should expand the legal avenues to work in the United States.
The federal government should provide alternatives to detention for those seeking asylum and adjudicate their applications fairly. Such a policy would be consistent with the law and our values as Americans.
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