Originally published by CNN
Is the federal crackdown on illegal immigration having a deterrent effect? Or are we suddenly experiencing a calm before the storm?
Newly announced data from US Customs and Border Protection show an “unprecedented decline in traffic,” according to a statement Wednesday from Homeland Security chief John Kelly. He never mentioned deportations; rather it was about deterrence.
Critics say the Trump administration’s crackdown has been cruel. But its proponents will celebrate the new data as the quick result of decisive action. We’ll see.
It is, actually, too soon to pass judgment of any kind. First, Kelly’s goals to stem the immigration tide can hardly be called cruel if, as he says, “many fewer people are putting themselves and their families at risk of exploitation, assault and injury by human traffickers and the physical dangers of the treacherous journey north.”
Second, the unprecedented decline may be an illusion.
I’m not saying that the 40% drop in apprehensions at the southwest border from January to February is based on bad information. I’m saying it lacks context.
Looking at all the data for the past five years, February apprehensions ranged from 32,000 to 42,000, but this year there were 23,589. That’s significantly lower, but January apprehensions were about 10,000 higher this year than in years before. And December apprehensions were 58,478, nearly double the norm.
There are many potential explanations, including temporary weather patterns and source country conditions, but the data seem less indicative of a change in trend than a one-time shift.
Imagine you’re an illiterate single parent in an impoverished Central American city that is rife with violence (the situation is different for Mexicans, despite northern stereotypes, who have better accessto the middle class and to education). You may have decided that 2017 is the year to try to take the journey north, but you have heard that the new American president, Donald Trump, will build a wall. You decide to go now before the wall gets built.
That kind of thinking may well have pulled tens of thousands of this year’s migrants to accelerate their journey, leaving in the winter instead of the spring. That could be what the data indicate. Of course, it will take years for a wall to be built and new enforcement agents to be hired, but that delay is a potential accelerant to border crossings, not a deterrent.