Border arrests exceed 50,000 for third month in a row despite Trump's escalating enforcement

Washington Post

U.S. border agents made more than 50,000 arrests in May for the third month in a row, the Department of Homeland Security said Wednesday, an indication that escalating enforcement tactics by the Trump administration - including separating migrant parents from their children - has not had an immediate deterrent effect.

DHS said agents made 51,912 arrests in May, more than three times the number who were taken into custody in May 2017, a period when illegal immigration plunged following Donald Trump's inauguration.

Arrests at the border this spring have jumped to their highest levels since Trump took office, and the reversal has left the president furious at Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and other aides who he believes aren't doing enough to stop the trend.

Border arrest statistics have long served as a metric for illegal immigration flows, but the Trump administration has treated their monthly publication as a barometer for the president's border security efforts.

Administration officials and top Trump advisers have been receiving regular updates on illegal migration trends, and said last week they were In a statement Wednesday, Homeland Security spokesman Tyler Houlton said the administration's crackdown needed more time to work.

"These numbers show that while the Trump administration is restoring the rule of law, it will take a sustained effort and continuous commitment of resources over many months to disrupt cartels, smugglers, and nefarious actors," Houlton said.

"No one expects to reverse years of political inaction overnight or in a month," he added.

While the May arrest totals were only up slightly from April,

Eager to campaign on his border security agenda ahead of November's midterm elections, Trump has told aides that illegal immigration is crucial to GOP success. He cited the issue as one of his key achievements in a tweet Monday marking the 500th day of his presidency.

"This is my 500th Day in Office and we have accomplished a lot - many believe more than any President in his first 500 days," the president wrote. "Massive Tax & Regulation Cuts, Military & Vets, Lower Crime & Illegal Immigration, Stronger Borders, Judgeships, Best Economy & Jobs EVER, and much more ..."

Behind the scenes, the jump in border arrests this spring has inflamed Trump and sent his aides scrambling to find ways to bring the numbers down. In April Trump ordered National Guard troops to deploy along the border, and Nielsen and Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a "zero tolerance" approach threatening anyone who enters the U.S. illegally with criminal prosecution and jail.

Because children cannot be held in adult detention facilities, the practical implication of the crackdown has been a sharp increase in the number of migrant children separated from their parents and handed over to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

As of late May, nearly 11,000 migrant children were in government custody, an increase of more than 20 percent over the previous month, according to the latest HHS figures. With HSS child shelters at 95 percent capacity, the agency says it is preparing to add thousands of beds to cope with the influx.

Most of the increase in border traffic this spring has been fueled by families and teenagers from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, many of whom say they are fleeing gang violence and wish to apply for asylum in the United States.

"Throwing everything and the kitchen sink at these vulnerable asylum-seekers is not working, as the forces driving them are much stronger than the cruel deterrence policies being deployed by the administration," said Kevin Appleby, the senior director of international migration policy at the Center for Migration Studies in New York.

"Addressing these forces is the best and most humane way to end this flow," Appleby said.

Homeland Security officials say they're real target is transnational smuggling gangs who they say are coaching migrants to game the system by exaggerating threats to their lives. Trump and top DHS officials have laid blame on Democrats in recent weeks who they say are blocking their attempts to tighten up asylum rules.

"The refusal by members of Congress to close catch-and-release loopholes have prevented the Administration from controlling the border," Houlton's statement said.

The number of families who attempted to cross the border illegally increased by 435 percent last month in comparison to May 2017, his statement says. The number of unaccompanied minors rose 329 percent.

Central American migrants typically spend 21 days or longer to reach the U.S. border, and word of harsher treatment from U.S. authorities will take longer to reach their countries and have a dissuasive effect, administration officials said.

Border arrests reached an all-time high of 1.6 million in 2000, according to DHS records, but annual totals fell significantly during the Bush and Obama administrations as the government spent heavily on infrastructure and doubled the number of U.S. agents at the border.

Copyright © 2019, The Virginia Gazette
90°