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Note: This story is more than 3 years old.

DHS: Border apprehensions down as interior enforcement ramps up

Calling the results “historic,” Trump administration officials highlighted the release of statistics showing that the number of arrests at the border has dropped to the lowest level in 46 years, following a long-term trend that began in 2000.

In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, including the first nine months of the administration, U.S. Border Patrol agents arrested 310,531 people trying to enter the United States, a 25 percent decrease from the previous fiscal year.

While immigrants from Mexico have been the largest population picked up along the Southwestern border, agency statistics showed that this year, more than half hailed from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, three countries struck by violence and endemic poverty, while Mexican immigrants were about 42 percent, following a trend that has continued over the last three years.

While the decline from the fiscal years of 2016 to 2017 was significant, agency statistics show that during the Obama administration, apprehensions dropped sharply as well.

In 2010, the year-to-year difference was nearly 27 percent, and in 2014, the number of immigrants apprehended by Border Patrol agents dropped nearly one-third.

From 2000 to 2017, total apprehensions have dropped nearly 82 percent.

Unaccompanied minors, family units ramp upwards

Nonetheless, agency officials touted the numbers as the results of “year-long return to enforcing the law, upholding the integrity of our lawful immigration system, and keeping America safe.”

“We have clearly seen the successful results of the president’s commitment to supporting the frontline officers and agents of DHS as they enforce the law and secure our borders,” said acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke. “We have an obligation to uphold the integrity of our immigration system, but we must do more to step up and close loopholes to protect the American worker, our economy, and our communities.”

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“We have seen historic low numbers this year,” said acting Deputy Commissioner Ronald Vitiello, however, he said the agency was “very concerned about the later month increases of unaccompanied minors and minors with a family members.”

In May, CBP officials saw a month-over-moth increase in apprehensions of children either in family groups, or without a parent or legal guardian, said Vitiello.

By the end of the fiscal year, more than 104,997 people traveling as “family units” were either apprehended along the border, or were refused admission to the United States by U.S. officials. 

Another 48,681 children were either apprehended or were deemed inadmissible, the agency said.

Beginning in 2013, federal officials said that the demographics of illegal migration on the southern border had changed dramatically. In one of the last press releases issued by former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, he noted that “far fewer Mexicans and single adults are attempting to cross the border without authorization, but more families and unaccompanied children are fleeing poverty and violence in Central America.”

“In 2014, Central Americans apprehended on the southern border outnumbered Mexicans for the first time,” Johnson said. “In 2016, it happened again.”

At the end of the fiscal year, CBP reported that 59,692 unaccompanied children were apprehended, and another 77,674 people arrived in family units.

In the interior of the United States, officials at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested 143,470 people, a 25 percent increase over the previous fiscal year, said Homeland Security officials. Officials with Enforcement and Removal Operations also deported 226,119 people, said officials.

Customs officials at airports, land crossings, and seaports also denied entry to 216,370 people, a nearly 25 decline from 2016, and Customs officers in other countries stopped more than 15,000 people from flying to the United States, officials said.

The drop in border apprehensions and increases in interior apprehensions reflected the Trump administration’s aggressiveness when it comes to illegal immigration.

In January, President Donald Trump scraped the Obama administration’s enforcement priorities, allowing U.S. immigration officials, especially the agents of ICE, to go after nearly anyone in the U.S. without authorization, ramping up enforcement, including in places previously considered protected, including courthouses. ICE officials have also arrested immigrants who were told to “check in” with officials, and those given deferred action against deportation under a program known as DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

In early September, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that DACA would be rescinded in the next six months, ending a program that protected nearly a million people from deportation—including nearly 30,000 in Arizona.

Following the end of DACA, Trump spent November slashing at a program known as Temporary Protected Status, canceling programs that protected at least 318,000 people, including 200,000 Salvadorans, 59,000 Haitians—along with up to 30,000 U.S.-born children—and 57,000 Hondurans.

ICE arrests up 30 percent

Trump administration officials have argued that agents are still focused on criminals, noting that 20,131 “criminal aliens” were arrested by Customs and Border Protection agents and officials, including nearly 11,000 people wanted by other law enforcement agencies, and 536 people identified as gang members. 

“These results are proof of what the men and women of ICE can accomplish when they are empowered to fulfill their mission,” said Thomas Homan, ICE deputy director, adding that the agency need to maintain “this momentum.” 

“We need to confront and address misguided policies and loopholes that only serve as a pull factor for illegal immigration.” he said, adding that the federal government needed to “find a solution to the dangerous sanctuary city policies and the politicians who needlessly risk innocent lives to protect criminals who are illegally present in the United States.”

According to agency statistics, nearly 144,000 people were arrested by ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations branch, up nearly 30 percent from the year before, though most of these arrests came in the last eight months following Trump’s executive orders. 

The drove the number of people locked up in immigration detention up sharply, increasing more than 40 percent. 

Honan argued that ICE agents were not doing indiscriminate arrests, as 92 percent of the people arrested had criminal convictions or pending charges, were ICE “fugitives” or have been previously ordered removed by a judge, and then deported. 

As part of this effort, ICE issued nearly doubled the number of detainer requests—a document that asks law enforcement agencies to hold people for 48 hours so ICE can take them into custody. 

This year, ICE issued 112,493 detainers, compared to just under 62,000 issued a year earlier. While the administration has tried to punish so-called “sanctuary cities” by withholding federal grants, that move has been blocked by a federal judge. 

While the majority of arrests by ICE including immigrants convicted for crimes, Homan said that anyone living in the U.S. without authorization “should be concerned," he said. 

“The president has made it clear in his executive orders, there’s no population off the table. If you’re in this country illegally, we’re looking for you and we’re going to look to apprehend you,” he said. 

The deportations of immigrants without criminal convictions increased substantially from arrests inside the United States, nearly doubling from 2016 to 2017, a measure made even more dramatic by the rapid slide of immigrants with criminal convictions arrested along the border and then later deported by ICE. 

In total, nearly 14,000 people without criminal charges were deported from the interior of the United States, compared with about 5,000 the year before.

While Homeland Security officials touted the overall drop in arrests, the agency also said that the numbers underscored the “need for a physical barrier at the border.”

“While 2017 marked a successful year in border security efforts, reducing illegal cross-border migration, increasing interior enforcement, and dismantling transnational criminal enterprises, multiple challenges still remain,” officials said, pushing for more “tools” to “keep criminals off the streets, eliminate the pull factors for illegal immigration, and remove aliens who have violated our immigration laws from the country.”

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“The previously announced Trump administration’s immigration priorities would address these challenges by enhancing border security, implementing a merit-based immigration system, and closing loopholes that encourage illegal immigration,” they said.

The wall

Congress has so-far declined to fund many of the Trump administration’s policies, including the hiring of another 5,000 Border Patrol agents, and another 10,000 ICE agents. While Senate Republicans included $1.6 billion for “physical barriers” along the U.S.-Mexico border, the bill is just one of a series of spending bills that have not been passed by either the Senate or the House.

While DHS officials continued to press for a wall, the ranking member of the House’s Committee on Homeland Security, U.S. Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, said that Tuesday’s data showed “there is absolutely no need to waste billions of taxpayer dollars on an unnecessary border wall.”

“The administration can try to twist these numbers into whatever they please, but the fact remains that after unprecedented investments in border security over the last decade, the border has become harder to cross and fewer people are trying,” he said. “Focusing massive, new government resources on a campaign promise would be a foolish and irresponsible exercise.”

The numbers represented a brief victory lap for acting Director Duke, whose replacement, Kirstjen Nielsen, was announced on Tuesday afternoon following her Senate confirmation as the sixth secretary of Homeland Security.

Nielsen will be the third person to take up the mantle at DHS after John Kelly left the post to become White House chief of staff.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

A teenage boy runs from U.S. Border Patrol agents near Nogales in January 2017.


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