The number of individuals apprehended by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) while trying to illegally cross the southwestern border fell by 18 percent in June, new data from the agency show.
After three successive months of more than 50,000 crossers apprehended, CBP reported 42,565 border crossers in the month of June. Department of Homeland Security press secretary Tyler Q. Houlton attributed the drop to President Donald Trump's "zero-tolerance" policy, which requires the criminal prosecution of any person who is apprehended.
A decline in crossers in June, as the weather grows hotter and other seasonal immigration patterns change, is not unprecedented. Similar drops were apparent in FY 2013 and 2016, according to CBP's data; a less precipitous drop happened between May and June of FY 2014. In FY 2015, illegal immigration remained roughly flat between the two months, and rates actually rose in FY 2017, from all-time lows recorded in the preceding months.
Much of the Trump administration's push on immigration enforcement along the border is a response to an increase in illegal immigration following FY 2017's historic lows. That drop was likely precipitated by the so-called Trump effect, as illegal immigration dried up in response to Trump's hardline border enforcement stance. But over the course of FY 2018, immigration has steadily risen to rates more in line with President Barack Obama's second term in office.
The zero-tolerance policy has led to a marked increase in the number of prosecutions of border crossers, according to at least one recent analysis. At the same time, it has stoked political controversy, as a preexisting court-mandated agreement compelled the separation of prosecuted parents from their children. That political firestorm in turn prompted a more radical shift among national Democrats, now embroiled in a fight over whether or not to abolish ICE, a federal agency responsible for within-the-nation immigration enforcement.
While the number of people overall attempting to cross the border under zero-tolerance has fallen, the number of families apprehended attempting to enter between ports of entry has remained constant, at around 9,000 people with families per month. The number of family units attempting to enter at ports of entry has fallen, however, by some 2,000 since May.
Unaccompanied minors, whom the Department of Homeland Security (which oversees CBP) routinely warns are particularly at risk of death or injury in the dangerous trek north, were apprehended less frequently at the border in June. The number detained between ports of entry fell by more than 1,000, while the number apprehended at ports of entry was cut almost in half, to 447. It is unclear if either the UAC or the family unit trends accord with historical norms for the shift from May to June.
DHS saw the numbers as a sign of progress, and issued further caution to would-be illegal border crossers about attempting the journey.
"DHS will continue to enforce the rule of law and uphold our nation's immigration laws as passed by Congress," Houlton said. "As we have said before, the journey north is dangerous and puts individuals in the hands of smugglers and traffickers. We continue to call on Congress to address the crisis at the border by closing legal loopholes that drive illegal immigration."