Mexico City (CNSNews.com) – A surge in the number of illegal crossings from Mexico into the U.S. along the southwest border in March and April should not be compared to 2017 figures, but is actually in line with most years since 2013, according to two immigration experts.
The number of “apprehensions and inadmissables” at the southwest border increased by 203 percent in March and by 223 percent in April compared to the same months in 2017, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data.
The totals were 50,206 in March compared to 16,588 in March last year, and 50,924 in April compared to 15,766 during the same month last year.
In 2016, there were 46,117 apprehensions in March and 48,502 in April.
Illegal border crossings normally increase in the spring because immigrants prefer not to make the journey during cold winter or hot summer months, said Randy Capp, director of research for U.S. programs at the Migration Policy Institute.
President Trump’s first year in office may explain why there was no surge in spring crossings last year and why the numbers for the two months were unusually low.
“There was a surge in crossings right before the election and then numbers dropped like a rock right as Trump was inaugurated, probably because of his front lining of immigration policy during the campaign and under the assumption he would be tougher on border enforcement,” Capp said.
“March and April last year were two of the lowest numbers since the 1970s,” he said.
Compared to April 2017, the number of illegal crossings now are high, but April 2017 “was an anomaly” compared to previous years, said Maureen Meyer, director for Mexico and migrant rights at the Washington Office on Latin America.
Illegal crossings dropped during the first few months of the Trump administration in 2017 due to uncertainty around his immigration policies, she said.
Meanwhile, families now account for approximately 25 percent of all immigrants apprehended by border authorities attempting to cross the border illegally.
Families and unaccompanied children together make up 40 percent of the illegal crossing apprehensions. The rest are adults.
More than 80 percent of the families are from Guatemala and Honduras, Capp said.
Meyer attributed the large number of families and unaccompanied children from Central America attempting to cross the border illegally to the high level of violence in the region.
Recently, immigrants from Honduras “significantly” outnumber those from Guatemala or El Salvador apprehended at the border.
She said that reflects political repression in Honduras after the recent re-election of the country’s president and the government’s inability to provide security .
While numbers from Central America rise, the number of Mexicans crossing the border illegally has declined dramatically and now totals approximately 200,000 per year. By contrast, illegal crossings by Mexicans totaled some one million per year in 2006 and 2007, when Mexicans accounted for more than 90 percent of total apprehensions at the border.
Improved educational and job opportunities in Mexico may explain the decrease in Mexicans making illegal crossings, Capp said.
In remarks delivered in San Diego on Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced authorities will now divide family members crossing the border illegally.
“If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law.”
Sessions also announced that the number of immigration judges handling asylum cases will be doubled.
“I have sent 35 prosecutors to the Southwest and moved 18 immigration judges to the border,” he said.
Meyer of WOLA was critical of Sessions’ announcement, saying that separating children from the parents at the border could actually end up costing taxpayers more.
“The administration appears to be testing the level of cruelty they can impose on a population in order to deter people from coming without any focus on why they are coming, which in many cases is an attempt to save their lives and the lives of their children,” she said.
“The recently released April 2018 southwest border migration numbers underscore the continuing security crisis along our southwest border,” Department of Homeland Security press secretary Tyler Q. Houlton said in a May 4 press release.
“DHS has zero tolerance for those who break the law and will no longer exempt classes or groups of individuals from prosecution.”