Migration to US falling since Trump took office

Mexico border arrests plunge, deportations rise amid stark and unwelcoming rhetoric

A group in California defending deportations and other actions by the Trump administration during a march in February.
A group in California defending deportations and other actions by the Trump administration during a march in February.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WASHINGTON • In many ways, US President Donald Trump's attempts to implement his hardline immigration policies have not gone very well in his first three months.

But one strategy that seems to be working well is fear. The number of migrants, legal and illegal, crossing into the United States has dropped markedly since Mr Trump took office, while recent declines in the number of deportations have been reversed.

Many experts on both sides of the immigration debate attribute at least part of this shift to the use of sharp, unwelcoming rhetoric by Mr Trump and his aides, as well as the administration's showy use of enforcement raids and public spotlighting of crimes committed by immigrants. The tactics were aimed at sending a political message to those in the country illegally or those thinking about trying to come.

"The world is getting the message," Mr Trump said last week during a speech at the National Rifle Association. "They know our border is no longer open to illegal immigration and, if they try to break in, they'll be caught and they'll be returned to their home."

The most vivid evidence has come at the southern border with Mexico, where the number of apprehensions made by Customs and Border Patrol agents plummeted from more than 40,000 per month at the end of last year to just 12,193 in March, according to federal data.

  • 21,362

    Number of immigrants, mostly convicted criminals, US federal agents arrested from January till mid-March, compared with 16,104 during the same period last year

Ms Doris Meissner, commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalisation Service in the Clinton administration, said: "The bottom line is that they have entirely changed the narrative around immigration. It is changing the way the US is viewed around the world, as well as the way we're talking about and reacting to immigration within the country."

Experts emphasised that it is still early and the initial success the administration has had in slashing illegal border crossings could be reversed if it fails to follow through on more aggressive enforcement actions, which will require more than just rhetorical bombast.

Many of the other initiatives Mr Trump has called for - including additional detention centres and thousands of new border patrol officers and immigration agents - are costly. Others, such as his vow to withhold federal funds from "sanctuary cities" that protect immigrants, are facing legal challenges.

Mr Trump signed an executive order during his first week in office that, among other things, vastly expanded the pool of the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants who are deemed priorities for deportation.

Deportations had fallen sharply in the final years of the previous administration as then President Barack Obama tightened enforcement guidelines to focus on hardened criminals. But under Mr Trump, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has begun to ramp up the number of immigrants placed in removal proceedings.

Federal agents arrested 21,362 immigrants, mostly convicted criminals, from January till mid-March, compared with 16,104 during the same period last year, according to federal data. Arrests of immigrants with no criminal records more than doubled to 5,441 in that period.

"This is the Trump era. Progress is being made daily, and it will continue," declared Attorney-General Jeff Sessions.

Mr Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Centre for Immigration Studies, which advocates for lower immigration levels, called Mr Trump's first few months a "mixed picture", but said the administration has made some progress.

Ms Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Centre, said: "What they've done is to export the failed enforcement strategy from the state level that was anti-immigrant to the national level."

The goal is to "make life so impossible and difficult for people that they would self-deport", Ms Hincapie said.



A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2017, with the headline 'cc Migration to US falling since Trump took office'. Print Edition | Subscribe