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Border Crossings Have Been Declining for Years, Despite Claims of a ‘Crisis of Illegal Immigration’

What Was Said

Posted Updated

Linda Qiu
, New York Times
What Was Said

“What the president reiterated again yesterday, and he has said every day from when he sought this office, is we have a crisis of illegal immigration.”

— Vice President Mike Pence, meeting with members of Congress on Wednesday.

“These smugglers know these rules and regulations better than the people that drew them. As a result, there’s been a 325 percent increase in minors, and a 435 percent increase in the smuggling or attempted smuggling of families and minors into our country.”

— President Donald Trump, speaking to the National Federation of Independent Businesses on Tuesday.

“In the last three months we've seen illegal immigration on our southern border exceed 50,000 people each month. Multiples over each month last year.”

— Kirstjen Nielsen, the homeland security secretary, at a news conference on Monday.
The facts

This requires context.

The Trump administration, defending its “zero tolerance” immigration policy that has resulted in separating families, has repeatedly pointed to a “crisis of illegal immigration” at the border.

But government data shows that monthly crossings along the border with Mexico are dramatically lower than they were years ago.

The most commonly used metric to measure how many people are illegally crossing into the United States is the number of people who are arrested, taken into custody or otherwise “apprehended” at or near the country’s borders.

From the 1980s to the mid-2000s, the government reported annually apprehending around 1 million to 1.6 million foreigners who illegally entered the United States at the southwestern border. In 2000 alone, federal agents apprehended between 71,000 and 220,000 migrants each month.

By comparison, monthly border crossings so far this year have ranged from 20,000 to 40,000 people.

The number of people who have been either apprehended or turned away at the southwestern border also has decreased over the past decade.

Trump, Pence and Nielsen are right that there has been a significant increase in border crossings in the past few months when compared with the same period in 2017.

Last month, for example, Customs and Border Protection reported arresting or denying entry to 51,912 migrants at the southwestern border, compared with 19,940 in May 2017.

But federal agents arrested or stopped 55,442 people in May 2016, 40,681 in May 2015 and 68,804 in May 2014, according to Customs and Border Protection.

Similarly, apprehensions of unaccompanied children and families have surged this year from last spring’s border traffic. But the numbers are less dramatic when compared with before Trump took office.

Customs and Border Protection apprehended 6,400 unaccompanied children and 9,500 individuals traveling as families this May — up from 1,500 unaccompanied children and 1,600 family members in May 2017.

At the peak of the Central American migrant surge in 2014, Customs and Border Protection reported apprehending 10,600 children and 12,800 families who entered the United States at the southwestern border.

— Source: Customs and Border Protection, White House

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