The border apprehension data for March is in, and they leave little doubt that we have a full-blown crisis along our southern border.
The total number of people apprehended entering illegally across the southern border in March was 103,492. That figure represents a 105 percent increase from March 2018, and an astounding 516 percent jump over apprehensions for March 2017. During the first six months of Fiscal Year 2019, 422,334 people were arrested as they attempted to enter the country across the U.S.-Mexico border, a figure that exceeds the total number of apprehensions for all of FY 2017. In testimony to Congress shortly before her resignation, former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen predicted that by the time FY 2019 is over on September 30, apprehensions will exceed the one million mark, describing the situation as a “Cat[egory] 5 immigration crisis.”
The immigration crisis described by Nielsen is unlike previous high water marks for illegal border crossings. In earlier decades, the vast majority of illegal border crossers were single men from Mexico. Nearly all of those apprehended were promptly returned to Mexico (although many just tried again). Today, the majority of illegal entrants are from Central America and elsewhere, who enter fraudulent claims for political asylum. In most cases, these bogus asylum claimants are admitted to the United States pending a hearing (which may be years off), and many are unlikely to appear for those hearings.
The latest data also indicate that illegal migrants are exploiting a judicial decision that limits the detention of families with minor children to just 20 days. Between October (the first month of the fiscal year) and March, the apprehension of family units along the southern border more than doubled from 23,116 to 53,077. Even more troubling, some of these family units may not even be families. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) reports a sharp increase in minors being brought into the country by adults who are not their parents, and that children are essentially being rented (at great risk to their safety and well-being) for the journey to the U.S.
The March apprehension data also show that the number of unaccompanied minors entering the country is also on the rise. Nearly 9,000 unaccompanied minors were apprehended in March, up from about 5,000 in October, taking advantage of a legal loophole in a law meant to protect victims of human trafficking that Congress steadfastly refuses to close.
Faced with growing numbers of fraudulent asylum claimants and too few detention beds, CBP began releasing illegal aliens in March, a policy that has put strains on border communities and also provides new incentives for people to attempt to enter the United States illegally.
This crisis—aptly described by Nielsen as a Category 5—can only be addressed by:
• Tightening the definition of “credible fear,” the first step in pursuing an asylum claim in the United States.
• Restoring the grounds for seeking political asylum to a “well-founded fear of persecution” at the hands of one’s government. That standard existed prior to 2014, when the Obama administration expanded it to include general fear of violence and lawlessness in failed and failing nations.
• Congressional funding for more border agents, detention space, and immigration judges to be dispatched to the border.
• Prioritizing the adjudication of new asylum claims so that fraudulent claimants are detained and promptly returned home rather than spending years here before their cases are heard.
• Full funding for effective border fences and walls.
• Legislative action to allow for reasonable detention of family units.
• Congressional action to amend the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act to ensure it protects victims of human trafficking, and does not encourage the smuggling of minors.