By Sylvia Longmire
Columnist, In Homeland Security
May 2019 saw a record number of migrant apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border, skyrocketing to 144,000 and consisting mostly of family units from Central America. However, those apprehension numbers fell 28 percent in June, partly due to a recent immigration crackdown and tariff threats by the White House, but also because of soaring summer temperatures.
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After hitting this peak number, President Donald Trump threatened to impose stiff economic penalties on Mexico by way of an escalating 25 percent tariff on Mexican imports. He said that the only way he would back off of these tariffs is if the Mexican government took dramatic steps to increase security along its borders and significantly reduced the number of migrants passing through its territory en route to the United States.
Mexico Reinforcing Its Own Borders and Increasing Deportations
Faced with significant backlash from the American business community, Trump backed off from imposing the tariffs and pointed to the 6,000 troops that the Mexican government quickly deployed to its borders with plans for many more. However, government sources indicated that these border reinforcement plans had been in the works for many months prior to the tariff threat from the White House. According to the Washington Post, Mexico said it has increased deportations 33 percent since the deal was made with Trump.
The administration’s doubling down on its Migration Protection Protocols is also causing several northbound migrants to think twice about whether or not they want to proceed with the asylum request process. This is a program where migrants turn themselves in to Border Patrol or Customs and Border Protection officers, but then are returned to Mexico to wait for their immigration hearings – sometimes as far as a year or more in the future. According to the Albuquerque Journal, the Mexican government has begun offering free bus trips back home for Central Americans who don’t want to stay in the country to wait.
Poor Conditions in US Border Detention Facilities
For those migrants who are spending some time in border detention facilities on the U.S. side, they repeatedly point to the poor conditions where they stayed. One migrant said she was not allowed to bathe or brush her teeth while in custody for 32 days. Another migrant said she slept on the floor in an overcrowded holding cell with her two-year-old son, and didn’t get enough to eat or a chance to shower during the 10 days they were detained. A recent report by the Office of the Inspector General for DHS noted “dangerous overcrowding and prolonged detention of children and adults.”
Another factor contributing to the slowdown, which happens every single year, is the brutal summer heat. Human smugglers, known as coyotes, are notorious for leaving stragglers and injured migrants behind during the long trek north to the border.
During the summer, temperatures in the Mexican desert exceed 100°F, and water is scarce or nonexistent. According to the Missing Migrants Project, 207 migrants died only on the Texas-Mexico border in 2018.
Drop in Apprehensions Due to Several Factors, Not Just Government Policies
While this initial drop in apprehension numbers can be attributed to multiple factors, President Trump is likely to perceive it as a victory and justification for the administration’s draconian immigration and detention policies. This will likely encourage him to continue the Migration Protection Protocols program, as long as legal challenges don’t result in an injunction.
He will also be less motivated to take steps to improve detention facility conditions if they continue to be a deterrent to migrants. Finally, Trump will continue to hold the threat of tariffs over Mexico’s head if he perceives them to be backing off from strong border enforcement actions.