National News

Southwest Border Arrests Rise for Third Month in a Row

Posted June 6, 2018 9:04 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON — Federal agents arrested nearly 52,000 people at the Southwest border in May, according to data released on Wednesday by the Department of Homeland Security, as the number of migrants trying to enter the United States continued to rise.

The arrests in May — the third month in a row of increases — follow the Trump administration’s tough stance against illegal immigration, including sending thousands of National Guard troops to the border and a “zero tolerance” policy that seeks to prosecute people who illegally enter the country. The new policy has resulted in hundreds of children being separated from their parents.

The new arrest data suggests such measures have not deterred migrants, many of whom undertake the long trek from Central America to escape violent gangs and drug cartels.

The Trump administration has used monthly apprehension figures as a barometer for how well its get-tough policies have fared in stopping illegal immigration.

But on Wednesday a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security played down the significance of the monthly figures.

“No one expects to reverse years of political inaction overnight or in a month,” the spokesman, Tyler Q. Houlton, said in a statement. “It is also clear change will take more than administration action alone.”

He urged Congress to “end legal loopholes that have left us with policies that serve as tremendous magnets for illegal immigration.”

Data from Customs and Border Protection, which oversees the U.S. Border Patrol, shows that agents arrested 51,912 people on the Southwest border last month, up slightly from in April.

Most significant, the number of children showing up alone at the border also increased — to 7,235 from 5,317 in April, the data shows. The number of families apprehended at the border decreased slightly.

So far this fiscal year, U.S. border agents have arrested nearly 340,000 people.

The number stands in stark contrast to the historically low apprehension rate during Trump’s first year in office, when illegal border crossings dropped to a 40-year low.

The increase in border crossings has caused tension between the White House and the Department of Homeland Security. Some White House officials have said the department is not doing enough to reduce the number of illegal crossings. An official at the agency cited limited resources and legal restrictions that have prevented some measures to stop the migrants.

The Department of Homeland Security has begun referring more people caught at the border to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has increased the number of immigration judges and set a goal of 100 percent prosecutions.

Still, many experts doubt that the Trump administration will be able to achieve that number because of a backlog in immigration courts and a lack of detention space.

The May arrest data was released shortly after President Donald Trump heaped praise on Kirstjen Nielsen, the homeland security secretary, during a briefing on the approaching hurricane season at the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Washington. Trump gave Nielsen credit for improvements on the border and for beginning construction on a replacement border wall in the San Diego area.

“You are doing great,” Trump said.

Last month, Nielsen told colleagues that she was close to resigning after Trump berated her in front of the entire Cabinet for what he called her failure to adequately secure the nation’s borders.