Originally published by The Washington Post
The number people caught trying to sneak over the border from Mexico has fallen to the lowest level in 46 years, according to Homeland Security statistics released Tuesday that offer the first comprehensive look at how immigration enforcement is changing under the Trump administration.
During the government’s 2017 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, U.S. border agents made 310,531 arrests, a decline of 24 percent from the previous year and the fewest overall since 1971.
The figures show a sharp drop in arrests immediately following President Trump’s election win, possibly reflecting the deterrent effect of his rhetoric on would-be border crossers, though starting in May the number of people taken into custody began increasing again.
Arrests of foreigners living illegally in the United States surged under Trump. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers made 110,568 arrests between Trump’s inauguration and the end of September, according to the figures published Tuesday, a 42 percent increase over the same period during the previous year.
Tyler Houlton, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, said the enforcement numbers published Tuesday were a measure of the president’s “security-focused agenda.”
“This is what enforcing the law as Congress adopted looks like,” Houlton said.
Soon after his election win President Trump pledged to deport or incarcerate “probably two million” foreigners with criminal records who he said were gang members and drug dealers, saying the number would be “as high as three million.”
But the number of people expelled from the United States declined about six percent during the government’s 2017 fiscal year, in part because the drop in illegal border crossings left the agency with fewer people to deport.
The increase in arrests is also placing a new burden on U.S. federal immigration courts, which are struggling with a backlog of more than 600,000 cases.
ICE said the number of “criminal aliens” it deported increased to 67,859 during the 2017 fiscal year, a 12.5 percent increase over the previous year.
But while the agency took into custody more immigrants with criminal records, the fastest-growing category of arrests under Trump has been those facing no criminal charges.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection Tuesday also published its end-of-year drug seizure totals. The numbers showed an alarming increase in seizures of the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl in recent years, from 2 pounds in 2013 to 1,485 pounds last year.
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