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In Three Months, the Number of Parents Apprehended with Kids at the Mexican Border Fell 93 Percent

Christina Cauterucci - Slate
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April 18, 2017

How a Trump Threat Deterred Illegal Migrants (Wochit News)

The Trump administration is boasting of an immigration-policy success after the Department of Homeland Security reported a 93 percent decrease in parents apprehended with children trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. In December, border patrol agents apprehended 16,000 parents and children, Reuters reports. Immigration numbers usually increase in March, when the weather gets warmer, but this year, DHS recorded only a little more than 1,100 apprehensions of parents and children for the month. The drop was even more significant than the already-steep decrease in total apprehensions, which fell 72 percent from December to March.

In early March, Reuters reported that DHS was considering a policy that would separate mothers and their children if apprehended at the border, an unprecedented shift away from previous policies that allowed many people seeking asylum to live freely in the U.S. until their hearings instead of in detention centers. The proposed policy, which would detain mothers in detention facilities and send their children into protective custody with the Department of Health and Human Services, was floated as a way around a federal court ruling that prohibited long-term detention of minors. It was justified as a deterrent that would keep parents in fear of losing their children from making the journey to the U.S.

Now, it seems the policy was as effective as a threat as it might have been as a course of action. DHS never even had to implement the proposed policy to see a dramatic reduction in the fastest-growing segment of undocumented immigrants or asylees: parents crossing the border with children. There were other threatened policies, including one that would have allowed the U.S. to prosecute parents for human trafficking if they hired smugglers to get their children across the border safely. But parents have not been prosecuted, and mothers have not been detained while their children got sent to HHS facilities. Instead, thousands of parents were forced to choose between staying at home in potentially dire situations and risking rumored criminal charges or enforced separation from their children in the U.S.

Trump did make one recent concrete shift in his administration’s approach to asylum cases. In February, updated instructions for asylum officers directed them to be more skeptical of asylum applicants claiming “credible fear” of returning to the nation from which they fled. In 2016, asylum officers found about eight in 10 cases of claimed credible fear to be valid and moved those applicants forward in the asylum application process. Previously, asylum officers were instructed to move a case forward and let a judge make the final decision even if an officer had reasonable doubt about an applicant’s credible fear. The new documents don’t contain that instruction, and they go further to advise that a person’s awkward demeanor or caginess may be signs of untrustworthiness instead of the logical product of fear, trauma, or a language barrier.

Reuters claims that after it broke the news that DHS was considering separating mothers from children in March, “Democratic members of Congress blasted the proposal, and within days it had made headlines across Mexico and Central America. … The possibility that mothers and children might be separated at the border caused particular alarm.” Two-thirds fewer parents with children were apprehended at the border that month. Some were convinced to stay in their dangerous home circumstances by U.S.- and U.N.-funded public service announcements that aired in Central American countries, telling horror stories of journeys north and quoting parents who allegedly sent their kids to the U.S. for a better life, then never heard whether they made it there safely.

This makes it seem like the leak of the DHS proposal could have been intentional.

Read the rest at Slate

Related: US Border Patrol Agents Are on Pace to Catch Nine Undocumented Immigrants Each in All of 2017 (Quartz)

Related: US Supreme Court Declines to Hear Case of Illegal Immigrants Denied Asylum (

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