Wall Street Journal
By Laura Meckler
May 09, 2017
WASHINGTON—The number of people apprehended on the southwest border trying to enter the U.S. illegally fell in April to its lowest level in nearly two decades, a decline that Trump administration officials attribute to a tougher stance on immigration.
After climbing late last year, border apprehensions have dropped for three straight months, according to government figures released Tuesday. In April, the government tallied 11,129 people, down 68% from a year earlier. In November, the figure topped 47,000.
The drop-off began in February, President Donald Trump’s first full month in office, and continued in March. The April figure was down modestly from the March tally.
Mr. Trump’s administration credits its immigration policies, saying tougher enforcement is prompting people in Central America to reconsider whether it is worthwhile to make the dangerous journey to the U.S.
“People in Central America are waiting and watching to see what happens rather than making the decision to travel north,” said David Lapan, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security. “The difference now is when you get here, it’s likely you will be caught and returned to your country. We’re getting people to understand it is not just ‘get to the United States and you’re good.’ ”
Faced with a surge in Central American migrants in 2014, the administration of former President Barack Obama tried to send a similar message, promising that people caught at the border would be quickly returned. But in fact, many children and families were released into the U.S. to await hearings.
The White House is promising an end to what it calls “catch and release” policies, though children will still qualify for special treatment under U.S. law.
Federal figures released Tuesday showed that in April, 998 unaccompanied children were apprehended, down from a recent peak of 7,349 in November. The records show 1,119 family units were caught, down from a recent peak of 16,139 in December.
DHS officials said they expect the number of illegal migrants to increase in the coming months, based on historic trends. But Mr. Lapan said the agency hopes it is only a small increase.
Experts said the number of apprehensions is a good measure of all people attempting to cross the border, including those who aren’t caught.
Amid the falling numbers, the administration is still seeking significant new border security spending. It is pushing for a multi-billion dollar border wall and the hiring of 5,000 more border agents.
Mr. Lapan said the border hiring could be re-evaluated but the administration maintains it is still needed.
“We can adjust that as we go,” he said, adding, “the numbers are down but they’re not zero.”
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