Three years ago, the Border Patrol agents in what is known as the Yuma Sector in Arizona arrested a total of 425 illegal immigrants for the entire month of November.
Last week, they broke that number in just two days, nabbing nearly 450 illegal immigrants on Tuesday and Wednesday — most of them Central American families.
Even before the high-profile illegal immigrant caravans reach the U.S. in the coming weeks, the numbers have taken a grim turn, setting records and serving as a major annoyance to the Trump administration, which had promised to turn things around.
The latest data show a staggering 23,121 parents and children traveling as families were caught jumping the border in November. That is nearly 40 percent higher than any other month on record, and it’s nearly 400 percent more than the number recorded in the same month a year ago.
Nearly all of those are Central Americans, pushed from home by a lack of jobs and grim conditions, and enticed to the U.S. by success stories of family, friends and neighbors who made it, sneaking in and claiming asylum or otherwise taking advantage of lax enforcement policies to gain a foothold, albeit in the shadows.
President Trump tried to step things up late last week by signing a proclamation triggering a new set of rules that allow the Homeland Security Department to reject asylum claims that migrants try to lodge after they are caught jumping the border.
“People can come in, but they have to come in through the ports of entry,” Mr. Trump said in announcing the move.
He said his own success in spurring the economy is partially responsible for the surge in illegal immigration. “Everybody is flooding into our country, or they want to,” he said.
Under the new Trump asylum policy, illegal immigrants who are arrested after sneaking in between the ports of entry will not be allowed to apply for asylum. Those who show up at ports of entry, even without permission to enter, will be allowed to apply.
“Any person who has a legitimate claim of asylum, who is fleeing persecution, is still able to have that claim heard. The only requirement is they go to a port of entry,” an official said.
But the government also throttles the flow of people through those ports of entry, so one consequence would be to have people pooling along the Mexican side of the border.
Officials said the proclamation could be ended before the 90-day period if Mexico allows the U.S. to deport non-Mexicans back to that country. That appears to be a way to pressure Mexico to do more to stop people using its territory as a path from Central America to the U.S.
The administration’s move underscores how frustrated Mr. Trump has become over the lack of action in Congress to stem the surge of illegal immigrants posing as asylum-seekers.
Meant to be a protection for people fleeing government persecution, the numbers of asylum-seekers have ballooned in recent years as people realized it can be used as a shortcut to gain an illegal foothold in the U.S.
More than 60 percent of illegal immigrants caught from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador demand asylum, the government said.
While other illegal immigrants nabbed at the border are quickly processed and deported, those who ask for asylum are granted a “credible fear” hearing. If they express a worry about being sent home, they are allowed to stay and apply for asylum.
Authorities say it’s a low bar, and migrants are coached on “magic words” they can say to qualify.
Few of them will earn asylum — just 17 percent of people who cleared the initial step last year ended up getting asylum — but few get deported. Most are released into the country, where they disappear into the shadows with other illegal immigrants.
The new asylum policy went into effect over the weekend.
The American Civil Liberties Union and other immigrant rights groups have filed a lawsuit in federal court in California to try to halt the policy.
“President Trump’s new asylum ban is illegal,” said Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “Neither the president nor his Cabinet secretaries can override the clear commands of U.S. law, but that’s exactly what they’re trying to do.”
The ACLU pointed to a part of federal law that says any migrant who arrives, “whether or not at a designated port of arrival,” can apply for asylum.
Federal officials, though, point to another part of the law giving the attorney general the power to write regulations imposing some time and place restrictions. The government officials said that is what the new policy amounts to.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, acknowledged over the weekend that it wasn’t a slam-dunk legal argument.
“I support the policy change. I’m not so sure you can do it by executive order, but we will see,” he told CBS’s “Face the Nation” program.
He said something needs to be done, given the numbers.
Yuma’s experience last week underscored how bad the situation has become.
The 449 illegal immigrants caught Tuesday and Wednesday included one group of 82 people who climbed over an outdated border fence. Four hours later, another group of 83 was spotted digging underneath the same fence. In both cases, most of the migrants were from Guatemala.
The Yuma sector covers western Arizona and a sliver of eastern California.
Earlier this decade, Yuma was considered a major success story, with the number of illegal immigrants dropping by 90 percent. Indeed, in 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015, the sector recorded fewer than 449 apprehensions for the entire month of November.
The Yuma numbers are for November, meaning they aren’t even part of the record numbers from October, which across the entire southwestern border averaged about 2,000 per day.
The Border Patrol caught nearly 51,000 illegal immigrants in October. Another 9,770 unauthorized migrants showed up demanding entry at the official border crossings.
Officials believe that the number of illegal immigrants caught by the Border Patrol is a good yardstick for the overall flow. More people caught means more people getting through, so a rise in apprehensions means a rise in overall rates of illegal immigration.
© Copyright (c) 2018 News World Communications, Inc.
This content is published through a licensing agreement with Acquire Media using its NewsEdge technology.