The Southwest Border is Open and Unprotected

Apprehensions data from US Customs and Border Patrol speak to a rapid increase in attempts to cross the US southwest border illegally.

But more than that, they speak to distinct trends by migrant type. Adults apprehended by themselves have increased only 20% over the last year--in line with expectations given the strength of the economy. Unaccompanied minors have increased sharply, +54% over the first five months of FY 2018. Most critically, the number of families apprehended has skyrocketed, up an astounding 338% in a single year.

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The differences among categories cannot be explained by either the strength of the US economy or safety concerns in the migrants' home countries. Rather, the data speak to the wholesale collapse of immigration control for minors traveling alone and, especially, for adults traveling with children. With Judge Sabraw's ruling in last June preventing the separation of minors from their parents and the recent omnibus bill cutting funding for detention beds, migrants can enter the US on demand if accompanied by a child--and they know it. They are taking advantage of the opportunity, with the rate of apprehensions of family units rising since last summer by almost 3,000 / month, and nearly 4,000 / month in total if unaccompanied minors and single adults are included.

By any measure, this constitutes the collapse of immigration control at the southwest border, and the numbers could -- and most likely will -- deteriorate further. The Washington Post writes: "The number of migrants taken into custody last year jumped 39 percent from February to March, and a similar increase this month would push levels to 100,000 detentions or more." This seems like hyperbole -- our forecast for March apprehensions is already absurdly high at 82,500 -- but it is not inconceivable. Migrants will surely believe the opening will not last and therefore will make every effort to enter the US before Congress and the administration can act. This in turn could drive a major increase in monthly crossing attempts heading into the summer. In this context, the Washington Post forecast may well prove accurate.

Oddly, neither the Congress nor the President seem to be focusing on the issue. The President continues to call for a border wall, when in fact a wall would have no impact on families presenting themselves for arrest by Border Patrol and subsequently claiming asylum.  Meanwhile, Democrats’ imagination appears limited to haranguing DHS Secretary Nielsen about whether fenced detention areas constitute 'cages' that are somehow inferior to walled or barred jail cells.  Democrats’ ire appears to be directed principally at the detentions of 245 children the New York Times identifies as having been removed from their families since the court ordered the government to halt routine separations under last spring’s “zero tolerance” border enforcement policy.  This constitutes 0.2% of those apprehended in family units during the period in question.

All this misses the point. Immigration control over the southwest border has collapsed, and the US is being overrun principally by economic migrants abusing US asylum law. This will be apparent to the US public -- Republican and Democratic voters alike -- by July. President Trump is correct in deeming this a 'national emergency', but it is not related to the wall, but to a catastrophic failure of US asylum policy. To restore order, the US has a handful of options, but the gist has to be preventing migrants from entering the US interior before their asylum claims can be adjudicated. This should be the focus of the President's efforts. Meanwhile, the Democrats should understand that just now the President is looking like a genius for highlighting the perils of illegal immigration and that the voters will likely -- and justifiably -- blame the Democrats for this rapidly evolving fiasco.