The Southwest border has broken open in recent weeks, with non-Mexicans — and illegal immigrant children in particular — crossing at a record rate in October, according to Border Patrol statistics that suggest the administration’s victory lap earlier this year was premature.
Nearly 5,000 unaccompanied children were caught in October, and nearly 3,000 more had been caught in the first half of November — a record pace for those months — and it signals just how closely smuggling cartels and would-be illegal immigrants themselves are paying attention to lax enforcement in the U.S.
Worse yet, the increases are borderwide, with every one of the nine Southwest border sectors showing spikes in what the Border Patrol dubs OTMs, or “other than Mexicans.”
Those who track the issue said the surges show a breakdown in enforcement, and called it worrying at a time of heightened international danger.
“The greatest existential threat to this nation right now is this administration’s open-border policy. This is no longer about immigration, it’s about the president and DHS keeping open the corridors on the southern border that are accessible to anyone in the world,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican who has raised concerns over national security risks at the border.
“We can defend our country against another country’s navy, a missile threat and even repel a conventional military invasion. But the president’s policy of allowing anyone into the nation as students or refugees presents a serious threat,” he said.
Some 25,000 illegal immigrants from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have been caught in the first seven weeks of the fiscal year, which began Oct. 1 — an increase of 58 percent. The number of Chinese, Brazilians, Indians and, strikingly, Cubans, has each surged by more than 100 percent, and the number from Pakistan, while small overall, has spiked from 6 at this point last year to 31 now — an increase of more than 400 percent.
Syria, strikingly, is not on the list — despite recent reports that Syrians have been apprehended on the border in the middle of the recent refugee debate.
Border Patrol officials in Washington didn’t offer an explanation for the surge, which contradicts the sunny outlook officials have publicly portrayed. Indeed, the last fiscal year saw illegal immigration overall, as measured by number of apprehensions, drop to its lowest rate since the 1970s.
That was chiefly powered by a fall in Mexican migration, which has dropped off dramatically in the last five years. But it’s being replaced by a bigger flow from Central America, particularly of women and children who are fleeing grim conditions back home and taking advantage of lax policies here in the U.S. that grant them access to the nation’s interior and leave little danger of them being deported anytime soon.
Indeed, in court documents the administration has admitted both the smuggling cartels and would-be crossers pay close attention to U.S. policies, and any perceived relaxation of enforcement entices more of them to undertake the perilous journey.
That’s exactly what illegal immigrants themselves are telling Border Patrol agents when they’re caught, according to an Associated Press report last month. The migrants say they believe that under Mr. Obama’s policies, they will earn a “permiso,” or free pass, if they can reach the U.S. border.
“It’s the same story as last year,” said Shawn Moran, spokesman for the National Border Patrol Council, the labor union that represents line agents. “Our agents are still getting hammered.”
Stephen Miller, spokesman for Sen. Jeff Sessions and the immigration subcommittee of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, said illegal immigrants are responding to the push for leniency in the U.S., including the 2013 Senate bill that would have legalized most illegal immigrants, Mr. Obama’s executive actions halting most deportations and the increasing use of “catch-and-release” policies for illegal immigrant women and children.
“These are immense pull factors,” Mr. Miller said. “This surge occurs at a time when the federal government continues to admit on visas more than 1 million permanent migrants and 700,000 temporary migrant workers each and every year — holding down pay for a financially drained workforce.”
Mr. Obama has been pleading with Congress to enact a more lenient policy toward illegal immigrants, but his efforts took a hit when tens of thousands of children and families surged across the border in the first half of 2014. The administration was caught off guard and had to scramble to try to gain a handle on matters.
At the height of the surge, some 10,000 children crossed per month. The number dropped to about 2,000 a month earlier this year but has risen steadily back to nearly 5,000 a month in September and October, and is on pace for about 5,000 in November.
The surge of illegal immigrant children puts a strain on other parts of government.
Under federal policy children from noncontiguous countries who are apprehended without being accompanied by parents are required to be processed and quickly released to the Department of Health and Human Services, which then tries to place them with relatives or in foster homes. Local school districts have struggled to accommodate the children, many of whom lag behind their age level in education and struggle with learning English.
More than 4,600 children were turned over to HHS in October, and November was headed even higher, with HHS predicting 4,900 children will be sent to its custody.
Once with families, the children usually skip their deportation hearings and disappear into the shadows with the 11 million other illegal immigrants already here.
The rising tide of illegal immigrants could also feed into the presidential campaign, where Republican hopeful Donald Trump has called for building more fencing.
Even Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton recently bragged about her 2006 vote in favor of erecting 700 miles of two-tier fencing along the southwest border.
That law was watered down a year later, at the behest of then-Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas Republican, and less than 40 miles of two-tier fencing has been built. Another 310 or so miles of single-tier fencing was built, along with 300 miles of vehicle barriers that allow people and animals to cross.