The acting chief of U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Tuesday that illegal immigration across the southwest border will be at a 45-year when final 2017 numbers are fully tallied, and he credited President Trump with the success.
Kevin K. McAleenan, who is acting commissioner and has been nominated to take the job permanently, said that while the numbers look good, he still wants to see parts of President Trump’s 70-point immigration enforcement plan go into effect to make still more progress.
The border success this year is all the more surprising because fiscal year 2017 started off terribly, with a massive new surge of illegal immigrants caught trying to sneak in during the final months of the Obama administration.
But after Mr. Trump took office the numbers dropped dramatically, in what Mr. McAleenan said “was due to very clear messaging” by the new president that immigration laws would be enforced.
“We are fully tallying our 2017 results but in all likelihood it’s going to be the lowest level of illegal crossings between ports of entry in over 45 years,” the acting chief told the Senate Finance Committee.
The number of people caught at the border is believed to be a yardstick for the overall flow, so fewer people caught means fewer people getting through, border officials say.
Those that are still coming, however, are increasingly difficult to dislodge from the U.S., having learned to exploit protections in U.S. law to gain tentative status and work permits allowing them to gain a foothold here.
Mr. Trump earlier this month proposed a 70-point plan designed to cut down on those avenues, including reforming the asylum system to make it tougher to lodge a protection claim.
Mr. McAleenan said those are the kinds of changes needed to make sure this year’s border gains are lasting.
“The clear intent to enforce immigration law has resulted in a significant reduction of crossings, but there are still some fundamental aspects of the system that need to be addressed,” he testified.
The acting commissioner also said his agency is making progress on tracking visitors to make sure they leave when they’re supposed to. The government collects information on arrivals, but is more than two decades delinquent in the goal of tracking departures.
Pilot programs are being tried at airports, but Mr. McAleenan said they will soon begin testing at land ports of entry, alerting foreigners departing the U.S. that they need to stop and give biometric information before the leave.
“We’re not going to forget the land border,” the acting chief said.