“In FY17, CBP recorded the lowest level of illegal cross-border migration on record, as measured by apprehensions along the border and inadmissible encounters at U.S. ports of entry,” according to a new report from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). A low level of apprehensions means fewer people are attempting to enter unlawfully. The record low numbers reported by the Border Patrol call into question the demands for unprecedented new enforcement measures as the price for enacting a legislative solution for individuals who arrived in America as children, commonly known as “Dreamers.”
Here are the highlights of the Customs and Border Protection report:
- “CBP recorded 310,531 apprehensions by U.S. Border Patrol agents and 216,370 inadmissible cases by CBP officers in FY17, a 7% decline over the previous year.” (Emphasis added.)
- Between FY 2000 and FY 2017, the number of Border Patrol apprehensions along the Southwest border plummeted by approximately 80%, from a high of over 1.6 million in FY 2000 to around 300,000 in FY 2017.
- “Nationwide, U.S. Border Patrol apprehensions averaged over 1 million per year between 1980 and 2016,” according to the CBP.
- The percentage of Southwest border apprehensions involving Mexicans has continued to decline. “In FY17, approximately 58% of U.S. Border Patrol apprehensions were individuals from countries other than Mexico.” Of the 303,916 apprehensions along the Southwest border, “162,891 were from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Another 127,938 were from Mexico,” reported Customs and Border Protection.
- A large percentage of those apprehended are fleeing violence in Central America, particularly families and young people. “By the end of the year, family-unit apprehensions and inadmissible cases reached 104,997 along the Southwest border,” reports CBP. “Another 48,681 unaccompanied children were apprehended or determined to be inadmissible.”
Due to demographic changes in Latin America the United States is not likely to ever again experience the level of illegal entry it saw 10 to 20 years ago. “The total fertility rate in Mexico was seven in 1965, which then plummeted over the next several decades, dropping to 2.5 by 2000, close to the U.S. level of 2.1,” according to economists Gordon Hanson, Chen Liu and Craig McIntosh. “This means that in the past decade, a major demographic driver of unskilled immigration to the U.S. has effectively switched into neutral. These demographic changes are likely to have substantial impacts on the relative scarcity of unskilled to skilled labor, regardless of which immigration policy the U.S. pursues on its border.”
If lawmakers want to address the future flow of people attempting to enter the country unlawfully they can make two policy changes that do not involve major changes to immigration enforcement. First, Congress can make it lawful to work in America under a legal visa at year-round jobs in construction, hotels, restaurants and landscaping. The visas can be fully portable, since that would be the best labor protection. The failure to make this common-sense reform has profited criminal smuggling gangs and resulted in hundreds of deaths annually of those attempting to enter the U.S. through unsafe border areas.
The second change is to work actively with Central American governments to reduce the violence that is driving so many of its citizens to flee to the United States. Sending people back to conditions that can get them killed or preventing individuals from pursuing viable asylum claims is not a policy worthy of the country that Thomas Jefferson once said “should be the asylum of all those who wish to avoid the scenes which have crushed our friends in [other lands].”
The Border Patrol’s report on the continuing decline in illegal entry comes at the same time Republicans and Democrats in Congress debate a solution for approximately 800,000 young people brought to the U.S. as children. Those young people will soon be without legal status after the Trump administration announced the end of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), which was begun under President Obama.
A small group of Republican Senators, including Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), introduced a 500-page bill that contains almost the entire legislative wish list of anti-immigration organizations and only a temporary solution for those called Dreamers (named after the DREAM Act). “The bill, the Security, Enforcement, and Compassion United in Reform Efforts, or SECURE Act, includes . . . mandatory worker verification, changes to asylum policies, limiting family-based migration, border security and targeting sanctuary cities,” reported CNN. “Most of the proposals alone are considered nonstarters by Democrats.”
Beyond deporting people who represent a genuine criminal or security threat to Americans, the rest of those targeted for deportation are people already in the workforce, at least 70 percent of whom have been living in the United States 10 years or longer, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
I asked economist Michael Clemens, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, about the push for additional immigration enforcement measures and even cuts in legal immigration, which appear premised on the idea that shrinking or reducing the current supply of labor would be good for the country. “There is no economic evidence that forcing millions of unauthorized workers out of the country will help the economy or help American workers,” said Clemens. “The best evidence we have, from economists Andri Chassamboulli and Giovanni Peri, suggests that forcing out those workers will actually harm U.S. workers. This is because many industries like restaurants and dairy lack any lawful channels for hiring immigrant workers.”
Clemens notes that when immigrants work in the kitchen of a restaurant, it opens up opportunities for U.S. workers to be waiters, waitresses and managers, and to work for the companies that sell goods and services to the restaurant. None of that is possible, Clemens explains, if there aren’t enough workers to staff the restaurant.
Research by Chassamboulli and Peri found, “Increasing deportation rates and tightening border control weakens low-skilled labor markets, increasing unemployment of native low-skilled workers.” The reason for this is because the presence of lower-skilled immigrants “reduces the labor cost of employers who, as a consequence, create more jobs per unemployed when there are more immigrants.”
The insistence of connecting legislation on Dreamers to large changes in U.S. immigration appears based on opportunity or an effort to scuttle the legislative effort, rather than for sound policy reasons. “The wave of Mexican and other migration that brought the Dreamers to America, in the 1980s and 90s, was a historical one-off,” said Clemens. “That wave will never repeat, due to permanent changes since then in the demography and economy of Mexico. So there is no substantial economic reason to tie the Dreamers’ fate to future enforcement.”
During a recent visit on Capitol Hill, I came upon a small group of Dreamers who were visiting Congressional offices. I went around and asked them at what age they came to America. The answers:
“I was one when my parents brought me here.”
“I was three years old.”
It is not in America’s national interest to send people who came to America as infants and toddlers back to countries they do not know. It is not convincing to argue an immigration crisis exists that requires unparalleled legal authorities when U.S. Customs and Border Protection just reported America has experienced “the lowest level of illegal cross-border migration on record.”