Illegal Immigration Forecast for Calendar Year 2019 - June Update

For calendar year 2019, we forecast 1,072,000 apprehensions at the southwest border. Of these, we anticipate 430,000 will be minors, and 642,000 will be adults.

We expect 309,000 minors and 226,000 adults will be released into the US interior, joined by 202,000 adults entering the US illegally and undetected. For the calendar year as a whole, we project 737,000 asylum seekers and illegal border crossers will successfully enter the US interior. Pew Research estimates the unauthorized Hispanic population in the US in 2016, the latest year for which data is available, at 7.3 million. Thus, an increase of 737,000 migrant entrants would represent a 10% increase in the “illegal” population of Hispanics in the country during calendar year 2019.

This is quite a large gain in percentage terms. Half of it — more than 350,000 successful migrant entries into the US interior — can be attributed to the omnibus bill alone.

Apprehensions

Determining the number of migrants entering the US starts with apprehensions. We have forecast southwest border apprehensions month by month for 2019, using actual data through May. We have assumed some seasonal decline in June, but note that the trend line is firmly up, so our forecast could prove low. The balance of the year is based on a projection of April to June 2019 actuals, seasonally adjusted. This yields an estimate of apprehensions at the US southwest border for calendar year 2019 at 1,072,000, up from 931,000 in our May update.

May appreh.png

Customs and Border Patrol segments apprehensions data by families and individuals, and this allows us to better understand current dynamics and the outlook for successful border crossings. As the graph below shows, the number of minors and adults apprehended who were traveling alone has risen, but the surge in growth has come principally from family units.

May appre by group.png

Applying this segmentation to our forecast above allows us to estimate apprehensions by migrant type. This yields calendar year 2019 apprehensions of approximately 430,000 minors and 640,000 adults, with about half of adults from family groups.

The Causes of Increasing Apprehensions

Apprehensions began to rise materially in August 2018, and then exploded in early 2019. The two turning points were associated with the Sabraw ruling and the omnibus spending bill.

The Sabraw Ruling

In an attempt to stem the pace of border crossings, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a ‘zero tolerance’ policy in April 2018, which included the separation of migrant parents from their children. This practice was promptly challenged in the ninth district court (southern California), Judge Dana Sabraw presiding. Sabraw took a dim view of zero tolerance, decrying “government conduct that arbitrarily tears at the sacred bond between parent and child.” “Such conduct,” he wrote, “is brutal, offensive, and fails to comport with traditional notions of fair play and decency.” In July, he ruled that migrant parents could not be separated from their children nor deported prior to their hearing.

With this, family units began to flood in. From August, the numbers began climbing quickly, and based on the last four months of the year, would have led to 598,000 apprehensions at the southwest border for the calendar year 2018 as a whole, 200,000 more than apprehensions at the January to July pace. As it was, apprehensions in the August - December period were about 70,000 higher than expected for that five month stretch, and this can be considered the impact of the Sabraw ruling through year-end 2018.

* Annualized based on Jan.- July 2018 data, using Jan-July 2014-2016 precedent, seasonally adjusted  ** Annualized based on Sept. - Dec. 2018 data, using Sep-Dec 2014-2016 precedent, seasonally adjusted  Princeton Policy estimates and forecasts based on Customs and Border Patrol data

* Annualized based on Jan.- July 2018 data, using Jan-July 2014-2016 precedent, seasonally adjusted

** Annualized based on Sept. - Dec. 2018 data, using Sep-Dec 2014-2016 precedent, seasonally adjusted

Princeton Policy estimates and forecasts based on Customs and Border Patrol data

The Omnibus Bill

The bigger numbers, however, came with the signing of the omnibus spending bill (the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2019) in mid-February, which essentially prohibited the deportation of any adult from the Northern Triangle countries traveling with a minor and claiming asylum. March and April each saw nearly 100,000 apprehensions, almost twice the pace of the last quarter of 2018 after the Sabraw ruling.

Attribution

Attributing rising family unit apprehensions to rulings and legislation over-simplifies causality to an extent. However, it is clear that the Sabraw ruling and the omnibus bill represented turning points in apprehension trends. For practical purposes, we attribute the post-July 2018 surge to the Sabraw ruling, and the post-February surge in apprehensions to the appropriations bill itself, even if the gains cannot be definitively allocated between the two, or indeed, to other factors.

Our current apprehensions forecast of 1,072,000 for 2019 includes a rise of 205,000 which can be attributed to the Sabraw ruling, and an additional 473,000 which can be credited to the omnibus spending bill.

In terms of minors, 430,000 are expected to be apprehended in calendar year 2019, of which 102,000 can be attributed to the Sabraw ruling, and an additional 229,000 to the omnibus bill.

By our estimates, the omnibus bill by itself will account for nearly 475,000 adults and minors apprehended at the US southwest border in calendar year 2019.

Successful Entries across the Southwest Border

We can convert the apprehension numbers into estimates of successful crossings into the United States.

Traditional Border Crossers

While much of recent attention has turned towards asylum seekers, the traditional border jumping business continues unabated. Adults traveling alone — who can be detained and deported — will continue to attempt to enter the US undetected. Apprehension rates have recently been thought to be in the 55-70% range. We use 60%, under the assumption that adults traveling alone are more savvy than families and minors, on the one hand, and that Border Patrol is too distracted with the tsunami of asylum seekers to properly focus on traditional border jumpers. We anticipate more than 300,000 apprehensions of adults traveling alone, which is reasonably high but not unprecedented by recent standards. Based on a 60% apprehension rate and a three-try model, this translates into about 200,000 successful crossings into the US by adults traveling alone and seeking to avoid apprehension. This is the highest since 2016, but not exceptional by historical standards.

Asylum Seekers

The classification of those claiming asylum is problematic. Conservative analysts have presumed that most migrants seeking asylum correctly appreciate that it will not be granted and therefore do not intend to show up at related hearings. Nathalie Asher, the acting chief of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s deportation branch, recently made just this point to Congress, noting that 87% of released families in a pilot program were skipping their court hearings. Therefore, from the conservative perspective, the recent surge of asylum seekers may be considered just the latest manifestation of illegal immigration.

On the other hand, until their cases are heard — perhaps as much as three to five years into the future — asylum seekers typically have the right to remain in the US. During this time they do not count as either illegal or undocumented. Ultimately, however, historical precedent suggests that only 12% of those seeking asylum are likely to have it granted. So how should the others be treated? From the conservative perspective, they would probably be considered illegals, or perhaps illegals-to-be. For purposes of this analysis, we treat 88% of the apprehended asylum seekers as illegal and 12% to be considered legal by being granted permanent status in the US.

In some respects, the distinction is irrelevant. From the conservative perspective, the 12% granted asylum represent roughly the same impact as those who are ultimately slated for deportation—although asylum seekers are allowed to work pending the disposition of their cases. For presentation purposes, they are treated as a single group of migrants entering the country. The average US citizen will be unable to differentiate between legitimate and illegitimate asylum claims, and will instead focus on the very real number of new Central American students showing up in their public school system. The aggregate headcount is likely to matter more than the ultimate status of those seeking asylum.

* Annualized based on Jan.- July 2018 data, using Jan-July 2014-2016 precedent, seasonally adjusted assuming 60% apprehension rate for adults alone and 75% and 40% entry rate for minors and adults in families, respectively.  Assumes one month lag from apprehension to release for asylum seekers.  ** Annualized based on Sept. - Dec. 2018 data, using Sep-Dec 2014-2016 precedent, seasonally adjusted assuming 60% apprehension rate for adults alone and a 75% entry rate for minors and and 70% rate for adults traveling in family units.  Assumes a one month lag from apprehension to release for asylum seekers.  Princeton Policy estimates and forecasts based on Customs and Border Patrol data

* Annualized based on Jan.- July 2018 data, using Jan-July 2014-2016 precedent, seasonally adjusted assuming 60% apprehension rate for adults alone and 75% and 40% entry rate for minors and adults in families, respectively. Assumes one month lag from apprehension to release for asylum seekers.

** Annualized based on Sept. - Dec. 2018 data, using Sep-Dec 2014-2016 precedent, seasonally adjusted assuming 60% apprehension rate for adults alone and a 75% entry rate for minors and and 70% rate for adults traveling in family units. Assumes a one month lag from apprehension to release for asylum seekers.

Princeton Policy estimates and forecasts based on Customs and Border Patrol data

At present, Border Patrol appears to release approximately 70-75% of minors and asylum seeking adults traveling with minors, which, allowing for lags from apprehension to release, translates into roughly 310,000 minors and 225,000 adults anticipated to be released into the US interior during calendar year 2019.

For the calendar year as a whole, we project 737,000 asylum seekers and undocumented border crossers will successfully enter the US interior. Pew Research estimates the unauthorized Hispanic population in the US in 2016, the latest year for which data is available, at 7.3 million. Thus, an increase of 737,000 migrant entrants would represent a 10% increase in the “illegal” population of Hispanics in the country during calendar year 2019.

This is quite a large gain in percentage terms. Half of it — more than 350,000 successful migrant entries into the US interior — can be attributed to the omnibus bill alone.