What Is the Real Reason for the Decline in Illegal Apprehensions?

Illegals Caught in Rio Grande Valley, June 2019

A few days ago, on July 26, we reported on the recent, steep decline in apprehensions of illegal border crossers and asylum seekers on our southern border.  At that time we quoted the three causes most often suggested by the media and government officials:

  • Seasonal causes related to summer heat
  • The “remain-in-Mexico” policy implemented by the Trump administration
  • Mexico’s stepped-up enforcement of its own immigration laws impeding migrants’ ability to get to our border

The following day, July 27, the Los Angeles Times took note of the decline and analyzed the possible causes.

While conceding that traditionally the number of apprehensions goes down from June to the much hotter July, especially in the very active Texas’ Rio Grande Valley,  Brandon Judd, president of the Border Patrol union, says the drops this year “are much greater than the normal summer ebbs and flows.” He cites the other two factors as the primary causes.

Most authorities agree that the “remain in Mexico” policy has been successful, though the total number of would-be asylees returned to Mexico so far (about 20,000) is relatively small compared with overall numbers (the backlog of cases is approaching one million). Nevertheless, an unknown number of potential asylum seekers may have been dissuaded thus far from attempting the trip.

Mexico’s crackdown also gets a lot of credit for slowing the migrations.  Adam Isacson, a senior researcher at WOLA, a Washington-based policy think tank, says, “The fact that there’s a crackdown no doubt has led Mexican smugglers to put a lot of their activity on hold.”

An unnamed Border Patrol official offered his agency’s opinion that “smugglers in Mexico appear to be holding migrants in stash houses south of the river, waiting to send them across” when the time is right. According to Isacson, that time might be “this fall [when] smugglers shift to new routes as temperatures cool.”

It is important to keep in mind that the migration process is not driven from the bottom up by individual families. Instead, it is driven by the cartels, who have grown fabulously wealthy through drug smuggling and have now added human smuggling to their repertoire of criminal services.  They are not a passive enemy and they are prepared and well equipped to respond to any crackdown from Mexico or any other government.

The Times finally considers a fourth possible reason for the decline of apprehensions.  What if fewer illegals are being apprehended not because fewer are attempting but because more are getting through?

It’s never possible to know exactly how many “gotaways”–to use Border Patrol slang who get past the border–are successful.  Historically, officials have estimated the number by using camera footage, sensor activations, and tracking by agents in the field.  In 2016,  before this year’s influx of families, an estimated 35% of migrants escaped capture.  It is assumed that this year, due to the Patrol’s distractions of processing, sheltering, and supporting of families in custody, more gotaways are being successful.

Another indication of that is the increased number of apprehensions made at checkpoints north of the border. Also, migrants successful in getting that far are often abandoned just south of the checkpoints by the smugglers and told to make their own way through neighboring ranches. Many then become lost, sick, or injured.  Groups such as the South Texas Human Rights Center have sprung up to help the Border Patrol  rescue such migrants (or in some cases recover their remains).  These groups typically respond to hotline calls from anxious relatives. The Center’s founder says calls to his organization are currently “way up.” Last month, they received 50 calls a week, as many as they typically receive in a month.

Whatever the reason for the decline, almost no one believes it will last. The cartels make too much money and the governments of the exporting countries receive too much in remittances. Broad, systemic changes need to be made in each of the affected countries, including the United States.

For more, see the Los Angeles Times.

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