June was the fourth month in a row in which border arrests exceeded 100,000, and the total was more than double the 43,180 people arrested in June 2018 and almost five times more than in June 2017, when the authorities arrested 21,673.
President Trump has treated monthly U.S. Customs and Border Protection arrest totals as a stock market index of the success of his immigration policies, periodically barging into Homeland Security officials as the numbers peaked at 13 years.
In late May, as detention cells along the border overflowed and Central American migrants poured in in groups of 1,000, Trump forced emergency negotiations with Mexico by threatening to impose potentially cripples – a political ploy to shift blame for the border crisis. to a foreign government.
The move spurred immediate action: Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s administration persuaded Trump to delay the economic sanction by promising that Mexico would dramatically increase enforcement efforts and work with the United States to revise security policies. regional asylum.
Mexico has since deployed thousands of National Guard soldiers to patrol its borders and prevent migrants from traveling along railroads and roads, sometimes grabbing families just steps from US soil along the banks of the Rio Grande. Mexico said it has increased deportations by 33% since the agreement.
“The reduction in arrests represents a decrease in all demographics, including unaccompanied minors, family units and single adults, as well as a decrease in the number of migrants from all countries in the Northern Triangle, particularly those coming from of Guatemala,” the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement. .
The number of “family unit” members taken into custody fell 32% in June, according to DHS figures, and the number of children arriving without a parent fell 36%.
“Reducing the number of arrests will provide DHS with greater opportunities to address capacity challenges for those in custody and expedite the movement of unaccompanied children into health care and human services (HHS),” DHS said in the statement.
Trump purged much of the DHS leadership this spring, including then-Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, over frustration at not being able to stem the influx of migrants at the border. He installed Kevin McAleenan, the nation’s top border security official, as acting DHS secretary, and he turned to him early last month to map out an enforcement strategy with Mexico. who could control the crisis.
The drop in border crossings has allowed some respite at U.S. border crossings, which officials say have been brought back from “breaking point,” allowing U.S. agents to improve timeliness for the care and processing of children and families following a wave of anger. on images of migrants crammed into cells and reports of mistreatment. The number of children in CBP custody has fallen from more than 2,500 in early June to less than 350 in recent days, DHS officials said this week.
CBP officials say the number of migrants in its custody has dropped by more than 40%, but the agency still has about 10,000 in cells and holding stations designed for half that number.
Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties plan to hold a hearing on Wednesday called ‘Kids in Cages: Inhumane Treatment at the Border’ to question the impact of the policies Trump’s immigration.
While it will likely take months to see if Mexico’s law enforcement efforts have a lasting effect on migration, U.S. officials said the June numbers appear to be a first step toward controlling what’s happening. is widely seen as a humanitarian crisis that has overwhelmed the US immigration system.
Homeland Security officials say they expect the number of arrests to continue to decline through July. Trump has given Mexico until July 22 to demonstrate his commitment to arresting and deporting more migrants, and he has issued statements in recent days suggesting his tariff threat has diminished.
“The southern border is very well policed by Mexico,” Trump told reporters on Friday. “You will see that the numbers are starting to come in very well.”
But given the migration trends of the past two years, the one-month decline could just as well be reversed. Word has returned to Central America that Mexico is difficult to cross at the moment, said Andrew Selee, director of the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, who visited El Salvador last week.
“You can suspend the migration flow by hardening application resources,” Selee said. “But the question is whether it will last.”
Mexico’s goal was to “remove the tension from the relationship” and appease Trump, he said. “Mexico put every resource they could into immigration enforcement, and it was chaotic and not entirely consistent, but somehow it worked to accomplish what they wanted. “
Higher summer temperatures have often, but not always, led to a seasonal drop in border arrests, and last year detentions fell 17% between May and June. McAleenan and other Homeland Security officials say seasonal patterns are less relevant now, amid a wave of migration they say was driven by parents bringing children to take advantage of ‘loopholes’ in laws US immigration policies and a dysfunctional asylum system.
Selee said the drop in numbers is also significant because it “breaks the momentum” of a wave of migration that has been building for months. “It certainly allows some leeway so that rational people on both sides can have conversations about long-term solutions,” he said.
Nearly 700,000 migrants were detained along the US border in the first nine months of fiscal 2019, a total not seen since 2007, when the majority of those arrested were Mexican adults who could be quickly processed and deported. .
Those arriving today are far more likely to seek US agents and claim fear of persecution, the first step toward initiating the asylum process. Due to court restrictions on how long minors can be held in immigration jails, parents who arrive with a child usually receive a court appointment and are released inside the United States.
The Trump administration has launched experimental policies to avoid such releases, insisting that too many migrants seek to outsmart the system and have no legitimate asylum claims.
The pact with Mexico has also allowed the United States to send more asylum seekers back across the border under the “Remain in Mexico” policy that forces claimants to wait on foreign soil.
At least 15,000 asylum seekers have been sent back to Mexican cities to await their asylum hearings this year, according to Mexican officials. Some have accepted government-sponsored bus rides to Central America, but shelters and tent camps in Mexican border towns remain overcrowded, and there are numerous reports of families stranded in dire conditions. A growing number of African asylum seekers are among them.
The United States on Tuesday began sending asylum seekers back to the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, one of the most dangerous in the country, to await their hearings.
The first families – 12 Cubans and Venezuelans – have been sent back with summonses for asylum hearings scheduled for September. They were not transported to shelters and several wandered the streets of Nuevo Laredo seeking help.
Local officials warned they lacked the resources to deal with the migrants and said they would have to be sent further south, away from the border.
“This border is a very difficult place to manage migrants,” said Salvador Rosas, congressman from Tamaulipas. “We think it would be best to create a shelter 60 or 100 miles to the south.”
Kevin Sieff of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico contributed to this report.