Illegal immigration from the U.S.-Mexico border dropped significantly during President Donald Trump’s first full month in office, he said in his first Cabinet meeting last week.
“In the first full month of my administration following the issuance of my executive orders, illegal immigration on our southern border fell by an unprecedented 40 percent,” Trump said.
The Department of Homeland Security recently reported a 40 percent drop from January to February 2017 in illegal crossings at the southwestern border.
How much is Trump to credit for this decline, and is it unprecedented? Experts say Trump’s hard-line immigration rhetoric probably played an important role, but other factors are also worth considering. The decline is a significant drop compared with recent years.
On March 8, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly described an “unprecedented” decline in illegal southwestern border crossings from January to February. Total apprehensions at the southwestern border dropped about 44 percent from January (42,504) to February (23,589).
Total apprehensions include U.S. Border Patrol apprehensions between ports of entry as well as people denied admission by customs and border agents at ports of entry.
Specifically, the subset of apprehensions by the Border Patrol along the U.S.-Mexico border decreased about 40 percent, from 31,578 in January to 18,762 in February.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection historically sees a 10 to 20 percent increase in apprehensions from January to February, Kelly’s statement said. Monthly southwestern border apprehension data for fiscal years 2012 to 2016 show a rise in apprehensions from January to February in those years.
Experts say Trump’s tough-on-immigration rhetoric played an important part in the reduction of illegal border crossings. But they also caution that one month of data is not enough to make a complete assessment and that other factors should also be considered.
“I do think that the election of President Trump is probably the most important factor driving these changes. But it is still very early to have firm conclusions,” said Christopher Wilson, deputy director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center.
It’s likely that his rhetoric so far has had a stronger effect than his policies, as on-the-ground changes and implementation take longer, Wilson said.
“The Trump administration’s rhetoric and executive orders have created uncertainty for potential migrants and in immigrant communities, and new fears that immigration enforcement will intensify both at the border and in the U.S. interior,” said Faye Hipsman, a policy analyst with the U.S. Immigration Policy Program at the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank researching migration trends and policies.
February’s apprehension numbers represent a five-year low, Hipsman said. And the country hasn’t seen a 40 percent decline in apprehensions in the past five years. Monthly apprehensions in fiscal year 2011 “were regularly on par with this February’s figures,” she said.
“The factors driving today’s border crossers — who are now majority Central American — are unchanged,” Hipsman noted. “Violence and insecurity still grip the region, poverty has not improved, and there are still tens of thousands of families living apart with some members in the U.S. and others in Central America with desires to reunify.”
And while apprehension data are generally used to measure illegal border crossings, past administrations have used both high and low apprehension numbers as an indicator of strong border enforcement, said Donald Kerwin, executive director of the Center for Migration Studies, a think tank studying international migration and a member of a global network of migrant shelters and service centers.
“That metric can cut both ways,” Kerwin said.
Trump said, “In the first full month of my administration following the issuance of my executive orders, illegal immigration on our southern border fell by an unprecedented 40 percent.”
Trump’s statement is accurate but needs additional information, such as the context that it’s one month of data and that apprehension data can be used in several ways. We rate it Mostly True.
Statement: “In the first full month of my administration following the issuance of my executive orders, illegal immigration on our southern border fell by an unprecedented 40 percent.”