Illegal immigration across the southwestern border is down a stunning 76 percent since President Trump was elected, with the flow of children and families dropping even faster as analysts say the administration’s commitment to enforcing the law has changed the reality along the border.
Overall apprehensions by the Border Patrol dropped to just 11,129 in April, according to numbers released Tuesday, marking the lowest monthly total for any month in decades.
The number of unaccompanied illegal immigrant children nabbed at the border dropped below 1,000 — a level not seen since before the surge that bedeviled President Obama during most of his second term.
Even before a foot of Mr. Trump’s planned border wall is built or any more agents are hired, the threat of being sent home has forced would-be migrants to rethink making the journey, officials said.
“A lot of the discussion about changes in our enforcement policy and the way we are going about doing business, we believe that has deterred people,” said Homeland Security spokesman David Lapan. “When you get here, it is likely you are going to get caught. You are going to be returned to your country.”
That approach marks a major change from the Obama administration, which struggled to handle the flow of illegal immigrants from Central America.
Under Obama-era policies, hundreds of thousands of children and families from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras were caught and then released into the interior of the U.S., where they often failed to show up for their deportations and instead disappeared into the shadows.
Mr. Trump has vowed quick deportations and has called for expanding detention facilities to hold illegal immigrants in the meantime, preventing them from slipping away.
“This is messaging, backed up by actual enforcement and policy changes that people are responding to,” said Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies. “The continued drop suggests this is more than just a fluke.”
Border apprehensions are considered a rough yardstick for the overall flow of illegal immigration, so a drop in arrests is believed to reflect an overall drop in the flow of people.
At its peak early in the last decade, the Tucson sector, which is just one of nine regions along the border, regularly recorded more than 70,000 apprehensions in a single month. Last month, Tucson reported fewer than 1,500 arrests.
Activity has shifted to the Rio Grande Valley sector in Texas, with nearly 4,000 apprehensions in April. Still, that’s a fraction of the 22,000 apprehensions recorded in October and fewer still than the nearly 40,000 arrests at the peak of the Central American surge in 2014.
Authorities expect a seasonal uptick in border apprehensions this month and next but are waiting to see the degree of any seasonal surge.
One indication that the change is a result of immigration enforcement rather than better border security is the flow of drugs, which remains high.
Mr. Lapan said that while seizures of marijuana are down, hard drugs including heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine are up. Like migration, a rise in seizures is believed to signal an increase in the overall flow.