In the three months leading up to the presidential election, U.S. Customs and Border Protection experienced a spike in apprehensions not seen in years.
According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) statistics there were 46,195 apprehensions along the Southwest Border in October, the first month of FY 17. CBP hasn't seen such a spike in apprehensions since June of FY 14 when there were 57,862 apprehensions. In the three months leading up to the presidential election there were 122,744 apprehensions along the Southwest border, compared to 86,975 and 92,525 for same period in 2015 and 2014, respectively.
In October there was also a spike in apprehensions of unaccompanied children, with 6,754 in that month, compared to 4,943 in October 2016, 2,519 in October 2015, and 4,181 in October 2014.
CBP responded to this surge by deploying an additional 150 agents to the Rio Grande Valley sector, one of the main entrance points for illegal immigration.
While the driving factors continue to be violence in Mexico and Central America and job opportunities in the United States, in July the Obama administration announced it was expanding the existing refugee program, which likely encouraged the new surge.
Called the Central American Minors program in November 2014, initially the program allowed U.S. citizens and those lawfully present in the country to apply for their unmarried children under age 21 to join them from El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras. Absent from this policy announcement was the fact that thousands of these children have been placed with parents and sponsors in the country illegally.
"Once again, the Obama administration has decided to blow wide open any small discretion it has in order to reward individuals who have no lawful presence in the United States with the ability to bring their family members here," Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement provided to the New York Times. "Rather than take the steps necessary to end the ongoing crisis at the border, the Obama administration perpetuates it by abusing a legal tool meant to be used sparingly to bring people to the United States and instead applying it to the masses in Central America," he said.
Christopher Harris, the Director of Legislative and Political Affairs for the Border Patrol agents' union local in San Diego, told the author that among the possible explanations for the surge are the continued abuse of the asylum system, known for its lack of uniform and consistent enforcement, and even the possibility of a Trump presidency.
Harris said the Border Patrol will have a better picture in the coming days of whether and how the election had a direct impact, but he also proffered the possibility, based on his observations and knowledge of border dynamics, that Mexico virtually opened the flood gates as a tacit opposition to Trump's immigration campaign rhetoric after he announced his candidacy in June 2015.
According to CBP apprehension statistics, after July 2015, apprehensions at the Southwest border did begin to creep up.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson staunchly stands behind his agency's position on illegal immigration and enforcement, both of which, according to Harris may conflict with each other.
"As difficult as circumstances may be in Central and South America and the Caribbean, our borders cannot be open to illegal migration," said Johnson in a CBP statement. "We must, therefore, enforce the immigration laws consistent with our priorities. Those priorities are public safety and border security. Specifically, we prioritize the deportation of undocumented immigrants who are convicted of serious crimes and those apprehended at the border attempting to enter the country illegally. Recently, I have reiterated to our Enforcement and Removal personnel that they must continue to pursue these enforcement activities."
While Johnson's rhetoric is intended to be reassuring, the reality is more disturbing. The "prioritization" policy leaves much to be desired. In sanctuary cities, for example, mayors have vehemently come out in unison this week saying they will defy any order or threat by President-Elect Donald Trump to remove federal funding for lack of compliance with federal law regarding the tens of thousands who have been put in removal proceedings and have failed to comply with immigration law. So crossing the border illegally is still an attractive option.
Harris told the author that the reality at the border is different from Johnson's claim and that immigrants are exploiting these policy lapses. He said that Mexican drug trafficking organizations have figured out how to work the system as an additional source of revenue for their criminal enterprises, especially in the realm of family units crossing the borders. Harris said he knows of cases where Mexican cartels give people a baby that is not theirs, for a hefty fee, to facilitate entry in the United States. Border agents also must determine whether a credible threat exists for an apprehended person fleeing Mexico or Central America, which opens the asylum process.
In any event, the spike has been significant, causing Harris to express concern over the shortage of manpower along the border as well as the dubious enforcement of existing immigration policy that the National Border Patrol Council hopes is rectified by their unprecedented endorsement of Trump.