Last week, 18 people crossed the border illegally into Arizona hoping they could exploit a loophole in U.S. asylum policy to stay in the country. Instead, they found themselves shipped back to Mexico while their asylum claims are reviewed.
In the midst of impeachment mania and the killing of an Iranian general, this event captured little attention. But it’s part of a broader campaign that the Trump administration has quietly embarked upon to crack down on illegal border crossings. And – even without the wall – these policies are having a huge impact.
The 18 migrants were sent back to Mexico thanks to a policy President Donald Trump implemented that goes by the official name of “Migrant Protection Protocols” (MPP), but more colloquially known as “Remain in Mexico.” First adopted a year ago, the administration has been working with Mexico to steadily expand it. The Nogales port of entry south of Tucson, Arizona, where the 18 were sent, is the site seventh to be included.
Before this policy went into effect, illegal immigrant families knew that if they crossed the border and claimed asylum, they’d effectively get a free pass. Immigration officials would release them into the U.S. within 20 days, on the promise that they would show up for their court date months in the future. Few bother to return. This policy was dubbed “Catch and Release” for a reason.
Now, they must wait in Mexico while immigration judges review their cases.
What “Remain in Mexico” revealed is how few asylum seekers have legitimate claims. In fact, judges granted asylum in less than 1% of the more than 10,000 MPP claims resolved so far, according to TRAC Research Center at Syracuse University.
The impact of this program has been little short of profound.
The number of apprehensions at the southwest border plummeted from 144,000 in May 2019 to just 42,649 in November – the last month for which the government has data. The number of border crossers apprehended with a family member went from 84,486 in May to a mere 9,000 in November.
As the El Paso Times put it, “the policy has proved to be a virtual wall.”
Indeed, before Remain in Mexico went into effect in Arizona, illegals had been flooding there because it was one of the last areas they could cross and hope to gain easy entry into the U.S.
“As news spread that migrants crossing the Arizona border weren’t being sent back to Mexico,” the Wall Street Journal said, “the Tucson border sector became the second-busiest crossing point in recent months.
“Border crossings plummeted in most other areas of the border over the same period.”
Trump has been busy implementing other policies that have strengthened the virtual border wall.
Last July, the administration issued a rule denying asylum to anyone who crossed another country before getting to the U.S. border if they didn’t seek asylum in that country first. This policy directly attacks the migrant caravans traversing Mexico. The administration has also struck deals with Central American countries that let the U.S. return asylum seekers to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
The administration has tightened up what counts as a “credible fear” claim for asylum seekers. At one detention facility, the number passing the credible fear claim plunged from 97% to just 10%.
Trump’s threat to impose stiff tariffs on Mexico unless it got serious about border control also made a huge difference, with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador suddenly sending troops to detain migrants.
Then there’s the fact that the Trump administration has gotten more aggressive when it comes to arrests and deportations of those in the country illegally.
A Government Accountability Office report released in December found that arrests climbed 34% from 2015 to 2018, detentions went up 35%, and removals rose 13%.
And who’s benefiting as a result of the administration’s tougher asylum policies and enforcement actions?
As we noted in this space recently, it’s been Americans who’ve gained work filling jobs that would have been taken by illegals.
Trump has been remarkably restrained about these victories. Perhaps that’s because he thinks the successes he’s having on illegal border crossings will dampen support for a border wall.
But make no mistake, the wall is an imperative, because while a Democratic president can – and would – reverse Trump’s immigration policies, he or she wouldn’t dare tear down a wall that’s already been built.
— Written by John Merline
EDITOR’S NOTE: The editorial originally referred to the number of families apprehended, but those data refer to the number of “individuals apprehended with a family member.” It has been corrected.
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