Right-Wing Media’s New Favorite Immigration Statistic Reflects Misguided Policy

››› ››› DINA RADTKE

Right-wing media celebrated a new report from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that showed a significant drop in border apprehensions since President Donald Trump took office, suggesting that fewer immigrants are making the journey to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump campaigned on preventing dangerous criminals from entering the country, but officials and experts report that the drop reflects the administration's focus on women and children and that the new policies incite fear in noncriminal immigrants and largely deter asylum seekers fleeing violence. In fact, these policies fail to address the proliferation of transnational crime organizations that Trump promised to tackle and undermine counter-crime operations within the United States.

The Number Of Border Apprehensions Has Sharply Declined, Indicating Fewer People Attempting To Enter The U.S. From The Southern Border

NPR: CBP Report Shows A “‘Sharp Decline’ In Apprehensions” At The U.S. Southern Border. According to NPR, “U.S. Customs and Border Protection reports that the number of people apprehended along the Southwest border continued to fall in March,” a month when “apprehensions are usually on the rise.” In February, NPR’s Wade Goodwyn “noted that immigration trends are driven by factors on both sides of the border,” but also suggested that the drop may be related to President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric. From the April 5 article:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection reports that the number of people apprehended along the Southwest border continued to fall in March, after showing a sharp decline in February as well.

The decrease comes at a time of year when apprehensions are usually on the rise.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly testified before a Senate committee on Wednesday, and said that since the beginning of the year the CBP has seen a "sharp decline" in apprehensions in the Southwest.

[...]

Last month, when the decrease in February was announced, NPR's Wade Goodwyn noted that immigration trends are driven by factors on both sides of the border — and things like the improving economy in Mexico have influenced a recent trend toward fewer apprehensions.

But he also said it's possible to credit the trend to the Trump administration, even without any widespread deportation or enforcement operations. [NPR, 4/5/17]

Trump Repeatedly Promised To Focus On Keeping Criminals Out Of The Country

Trump Campaigned On Preventing Dangerous Criminals From Entering The Country And Has Promised To “First Remove Those With Criminal Records.” Trump -- who kicked off his presidential bid by claiming Mexico sends to the U.S. “people that have lots of problems” and who are “rapists” and are “bringing drugs” and “crime” -- campaigned on keep dangerous people from entering the country. Since taking office, Trump has claimed that his immigration policy will prioritize “deporting undocumented immigrants with criminal records.” He has also claimed that he is “open” to comprehensive immigration reform and that he will “show great heart” for DACA recipients (although actions taking since those statements have undermined his promises). [Politico, 11/13/16; Media Matters, 7/9/15, 9/1/16, 3/8/17]

Right-Wing Media Have Lauded Trump's Policies For The Decline In Border Apprehensions 

Breitbart Affiliate: The Drop In Apprehensions Is “Due Strictly To President Trump’s Policies.” National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd -- who is also affiliated with Breitbart.com -- appeared on Fox Business' Varney & Co., where he applauded Trump’s policies and claimed that the drop in apprehensions was “due strictly” to the new immigration enforcement standards. Judd contributes to the Breitbart-sponsored podcast Green Line, a program where border patrol agents discuss immigration issues. Breitbart highlighted the interview in an article shortly after, doubling down on Judd’s claim. [FoxBusiness.com, 4/12/17; Breitbart, 4/13/17]

Fox News’ Ed Henry: Trump Should Get Credit Because “Illegal Immigration Went Down. ... That’s Good News.” On Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, guest host Ed Henry insisted that it’s “good news” that the number of border apprehensions went down since Trump took office. Henry repeatedly talked over his guest, Cato Institute immigration policy analyst Alex Nowrasteh, who tried to explain that there might be reasons for the drop other than Trump's policy, which could include problems with the economy or with Trump’s approach to immigration policy. From the March 9 edition:

ED HENRY (HOST): Illegal immigration went down.

ALEX NOWRASTEH (IMMIGRATION POLICY ANALYST): Yeah. But it might be for various reasons.

HENRY: That’s good news.

[...]

HENRY: If cost is the issue, I'm just confused about why you are against the idea that -- Donald Trump hasn't even built the wall, he's talked about it. And illegal immigration is coming down without spending a dime on the wall.

NOWRASTEH: That's one of the best things about it. But --

HENRY: So that's a good thing. So why are you criticizing basically his entire approach? When you say part of your deal is to decrease the cost -- the size and cost of government. Without even building a single plank in the wall, illegal immigration appears to be coming down. [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 3/9/17]

The Daily Signal: Drop In Apprehensions Is Due To A Combination Of Trump’s Policies Targeting “Illegal Border Crossers” And “Interior Enforcement.” The Heritage Foundation’s publication, The Daily Signal, lauded the “hefty drop” in border apprehensions and attributed the decrease to “increasing the detention of illegal border crossers, expanding the use of expedited removals, and moving more Homeland Security and Justice Department resources to the border so that border crossers do not have to be sent into the U.S. interior to have their cases heard,” as well as “enforcement throughout the United States,” meaning increased deportations. [The Daily Signal, 4/12/17]

Gateway Pundit Headline Called The Drop In Apprehensions “More Winning.” The Gateway Pundit, a far-right sensationalist publication, lauded the decrease in border apprehensions as “more winning” and wrote, “This is the result of a President who talks tough on borders and illegal immigration.” [The Gateway Pundit, 3/9/17]

The Drop Actually Reflects DHS’ Focus On Deterring Asylum Seekers And Other Noncriminals Fleeing Violence And Poverty ...

Reuters: According To DHS Officials, The Trump “Administration Has Focused On One Immigrant Group More Than Others: Women With Children.” Reuters reported that “Trump has spoken about the need to crack down broadly on all illegal immigrants. But, internally, according to the DHS [Department of Homeland Security] officials familiar with the department's strategy, his administration has focused on one immigrant group more than others: women with children, the fastest growing demographic of illegal immigrants.” These tactics include implementing “tougher initial hurdles for asylum claims and the threat of prosecuting parents if they hire smugglers to get their families across the border” as well as suggesting “separating women and children at the border.” From the April 13 report:

Trump has spoken about the need to crack down broadly on all illegal immigrants. But, internally, according to the DHS officials familiar with the department's strategy, his administration has focused on one immigrant group more than others: women with children, the fastest growing demographic of illegal immigrants. This planning has not been previously reported.

In the months since Trump's inauguration, DHS has rolled out a range of policies aimed at discouraging women from attempting to cross the border, including tougher initial hurdles for asylum claims and the threat of prosecuting parents if they hire smugglers to get their families across the border.

The department has also floated proposals such as separating women and children at the border.

DHS Secretary John Kelly told a Senate hearing on April 5 that the sharp drop in illegal immigration, especially among women and children, was due to Trump's tough policies. [Reuters, 4/13/17]

Former USCIS Director: Trump’s Enforcement Of Women With Children In The U.S. Has Deterred Women And Children From Coming To The Border To Flee “Intolerable Violence And Poverty.” According to a March 9 CNN Politics article, the drop in border apprehensions is due to scaring away “poor people -- in many cases, mothers with children or children alone, fleeing intolerable violence and poverty.” From CNN Politics:

It will still take months to figure out if the decrease in apprehensions is an indication of a lasting Trump effect on immigration patterns. Numbers tend to decrease seasonally in the winter and increase into the spring months.

But the sharp downtick after an uptick at the end of the Obama administration could fit the narrative that it takes tough rhetoric on immigration -- backed up by policy -- to get word-of-mouth warnings to undocumented immigrants making the harrowing journey to the border.

[...]

"Well, the bullies can gloat and preen that they chased the skinny kids off the block," said Leon Rodriguez, a former Obama administration director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services. "We need to understand what has occurred here. Poor people -- in many cases, mothers with children or children alone, fleeing intolerable violence and poverty -- have been scared away. Many of those are people with legitimate asylum claims that would ultimately have been granted had they actually reached ports of entry." [CNN Politics, 3/9/17]

Immigration Expert: “Fear Inside The U.S.” Is Creating A “Feedback Loop” Deterring Those Fleeing Violence From Making The Journey. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, Faye Hipsman, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, noted that uncertainty and fear among those who would make the journey to the border after the crackdown on women with children has deterred them from coming however temporarily:

Although the drop is significant and larger than expected, migration policy experts say, it is too early to assume a long-term trend —particularly before many of the key measures of Trump’s executive orders have taken effect.

“What we’re seeing is really about perception,” said Faye Hipsman, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, D.C.: “The orders offer the possibility of very meaningful changes at the border — increased detentions, more people subject to rapid deportations — so that creates a perception that it’s more difficult to reach the United States. More importantly, there’s a lot of fear inside the U.S., and those feedback loops reach people who are thinking about making the journey.”

However, Hipsman cautioned, typically each time the government adopts new immigration enforcement measures — for example, building detention centers to accommodate the surge of Central American women and children — the numbers fall, only to rebound, in some cases higher than before. [Los Angeles Times, 3/9/17]

Immigration Advocate Amy Fischer: Evidence Shows Possible Asylum Seekers Have Been Turned Away At The Border. According to a March 9 article in the Los Angeles Times, immigration advocate Amy Fischer noted that the drop in apprehensions is also due to the drop in the number of women and children who are attempting to cross despite no change in “conditions in their home countries.” The article continues:

Although it’s possible that asylum seekers are now looking for new and different avenues to win asylum, Fischer said, her organization had also seen evidence of efforts to turn people away at the border. A handful of people interviewed at family detention centers in Texas, she said, reported they had been turned away at the port of entry or told to come back another day before trying to cross the river.

“We don’t know if essentially what’s going on is an increase in the collusion between Mexican and U.S. authorities to turn people away at the border so they are not counted as apprehensions,” she said. “Throughout history, the U.S. has always been a safe place where people seeking protection can go. If that’s changing, look at what message that is sending to the rest of the world.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/9/17]

Univision: “Only Five Of The More Than 4,000 People Prosecuted In New Immigration Cases In February Actually Committed Crimes That Put Public Safety At Risk.” Univision reported that in February only “0.1 percent of the total immigration cases that were opened” involved “a firearm or other dangerous criminal act.” Meanwhile, illegal entry into the U.S. accounted for 48.8 percent of cases and re-entry after being deported represented 43.6 percent of the cases:

[Univision.com, 4/5/17]

… Which Will Not Deter Transnational Crime Organizations And Could Undermine Internal Counter-Crime Efforts

BBC: Drug Cartels Generally Travel By Sea, Air, And Tunnels To Cross Into The U.S. The BBC spoke to four immigration experts who explained that drug organizations use sophisticated methods to bypass border patrol officers. Rear Adm. Christopher Tomney of the U.S. Coast Guard explained that "95% of the drugs are moving on the water via container ships, non-commercial vessels, pleasure boats, sail boats, fishing boats." Eric Feldman, the assistant special agent of DHS' Tunnel Task Force, said that "sophisticated tunnel[s] ... allow [drug traffickers] to cross large-scale loads" of drugs without having to journey across the rough terrain of the desert. [BBC, 12/3/15]

CFR: The “Strongest Measures To Date On Human Trafficking And Migrant Smuggling” “Do Not Aim To Curb Illegal Immigration, But Instead To Undermine Organized Smugglers.” According to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), which has been studying transnational organized crime for decades, focusing on illegal immigration is not an effective tactic for combating transnational crime. CFR calls for governments to “improve data,” “draw on lessons from counterterrorism efforts,” “streamline U.S. government anticrime capacity building,” “support evidence-based drug policy,” and “combat criminal impunity” or “violent criminal organizations” to reduce transnational crime. None of these suggestions involve focusing on illegal immigration. [Council on Foreign Relations, 6/25/13]

NY Times: Deporting Noncriminals Provides “‘Potential Recruits’” For Drug Cartels. An April 4 New York Times article outlined the realities of addressing transnational crime, noting, “So far, Mr. Trump’s response to the drug and immigration crisis has been narrow in scope.” According to Homeland Security officials quoted in the article, Trump’s focus on stopping undocumented immigrants from entering the U.S. would be better utilized on stemming “the flow of money going from north to south,” which fuels drug cartels. One expert told the newspaper, “All of these people that are deported — Mexicans and Central Americans, standing around with nothing to do — are potential recruits for cartels.” From the Times report:

President Trump has talked frequently about “bad hombres” streaming in from Mexico. But it is the flow of money going from north to south — a product of Americans’ voracious appetite for illicit drugs — that officials say is an equal part of the problem.

“It’s the money and the guns that have enabled the cartels to obtain the power they have,” Scott Brown, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Phoenix, part of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in an interview. “I’m a firm believer that if we can keep the cartels from getting their profits, over time, that has a lot more impact than seizing the drugs.”

[...]

“I wish I had a unit dedicated to checking vehicles going south for guns and money,” Pete Bachelier, a United States Customs and Border Protection officer who is in charge of the local port of entry, said in an interview. “I just don’t have the manpower.”

[...]

So far, Mr. Trump’s response to the drug and immigration crisis has been narrow in scope.

In addition to his focus on building a border wall, he has pledged to hire 15,000 additional border and deportation agents to round up and deport undocumented immigrants entering or already in the United States.

But several Mexican security experts and former government officials say Trump administration actions on border security and immigration are too limited.

“Border security is a shared responsibility,” said Alejandro Hope, a security consultant and former analyst with Cisen, the Mexican intelligence agency. “The United States is not going to be safer by scapegoating Mexico.”

Eduardo Guerrero-Gutierrez, a security analyst with Lantia Consultores, a consulting firm based in Mexico City, said the deportation of thousands of people to towns along the border could make both the United States and Mexico less safe.

“We think all these new people on the border will contribute to more violence,” he said. “All of these people that are deported — Mexicans and Central Americans, standing around with nothing to do — are potential recruits for cartels.” [The New York Times, 4/4/17]

OC Register: Trump’s "Efforts To Crack Down” On Undocumented Immigrants Have Deterred Latinos From Reporting Domestic Violence And Sexual Assaults. The Orange County Register reported that Trump’s “efforts to crack down on the estimated 11 million immigrants living illegally in the U.S. have sparked fear and anxiety, leading many people to try to avoid any contact with law enforcement.” According to Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck, “Since the beginning of 2017, sexual assault reports [in LA] have dropped 25 percent and domestic violence reports have decreased by 10 percent among Latinos.” [The Orange County Register, 3/21/17]

Sentencing Project: Police “Would Rather Work With Immigrants Instead Of Taking Steps To Deport Them.” According to the Sentencing Project, an organization working for a fair U.S. justice system, Trump’s proposals targeting noncriminals encourage “fear of the police (due to fear of deportation)" that "would hamper” law enforcement investigations. The Sentencing Project’s report compiled research that concluded that “aggressive immigration enforcement produces limited public safety benefit.” From the March 16 report (citations removed):

Jurisdictions adopt sanctuary status in part to encourage undocumented immigrants to assist law enforcement investigations. Fear of the police (due to fear of deportation) would hamper such investigations. A poll of Latinos in Southwestern California, conducted by Lake Research Partners, supports that belief: 44% of Latinos surveyed said they would be less likely to report being a victim of a crime for fear the police would ask about their documented status.Oxford University sociologist David Kirk and his colleagues found that immigrants in New York City were much less likely to assist the police if they perceived the criminal justice system as being unfair to people like themselves.

[...]

Research revealing that aggressive immigration enforcement produces limited public safety benefit further supports the resistance of law enforcement leaders to intensified immigration law enforcement. Deportations and other tactics like the 287(g) policy (which allow local jurisdictions to enforce federal immigration statutes) have been used on immigrant communities to combat crime, but research shows that for the most part these methods were not effective in controlling crime. Northeastern University sociologist Jacob Stowell and colleagues’ analysis found that immigrant deportations did not reduce overall violent crime rates in metropolitan areas between 1994-2004, when controlling for other factors. The authors did find important regional variation: deportations lowered aggravated assault rates in border areas while increasing them in non-border areas. This suggested, they noted, that “the forced removal of individuals in non-border areas fractures the more delicate (i.e., less well established) information and resource networks, thereby undermining informal mechanisms of social control.” [The Sentencing Project, 3/16/17]

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