Illegal immigration across the southwestern border has been cut dramatically over the past two months, officials revealed Thursday, pointing to President Trump’s deal with Mexico to step up that country’s enforcement as the chief reason.
The Border Patrol nabbed about 72,000 people who sneaked across the border in July — a reduction of almost half compared with the peak of two months ago.
Border cities that were so overwhelmed that they declared states of emergency are getting back to normal, with drops of 70% or more in the regions of El Paso, Texas, and Yuma, Arizona.
“We have some good news on the numbers in July. They are definitely declining,” Mark Morgan, acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, told reporters as he announced the latest figures.
He said the lower numbers mean better
conditions for those who are still making the trek and getting caught, with overcrowding in detention facilities dropping dramatically. Where border facilities had more than 19,000 people in custody at one point in June, they had about 4,700 in custody Thursday.
That is partly a result of the emergency spending bill President Trump demanded and Congress passed in late June. That legislation provided $4.6 billion to improve conditions and allowed thousands of children to be moved from border facilities to dorms run by the Health and Human Services Department.
The flow of people is also down dramatically, Mr. Morgan said, and it’s not just seasonal changes. He said better efforts by Mexico and better cooperation from Central American governments are making a difference.
After threats of economic sanctions from Mr. Trump, including crippling tariffs, Mexican officials in early June agreed to take specific steps to control the flow of people crossing its territory from Central America en route to the U.S.
Mexico now has 26,000 troops deployed to focus on immigration. More than 10,000 of those are on its southern border with its Central American neighbors, and more than 15,000 others are up north, CBP said. The troops are breaking up migrant groups.
Mexico also agreed to expand its cooperation with the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocol, a policy of taking asylum seekers from Central America who cross Mexican territory and sending them back to Mexico to wait for their cases to be heard in U.S. immigration courts.
CBP said some 30,000 migrants have been returned to Mexico under the protocol.
“That is really a game-changer for us,” Mr. Morgan said.
He cautioned that the border is still in a crisis with CBP on pace this year to nab 1 million migrants either sneaking across the border or showing up at ports of entry without permission to enter.
In July, Border Patrol agents caught 71,999 sneaking into the country and CBP officers stopped 10,050 more at ports of entry.
Of those, nearly 47,000 came as families and nearly 6,000 more were unaccompanied children — those who arrived without a parent. Those are the two populations that have most taxed Homeland Security this year.
Officials say migrants are enticed by “loopholes” in U.S. law that virtually assure them quick release into U.S. communities, where they can disappear into the shadows.
Immigrant rights activists and congressional Democrats say the migrants should be treated as refugees fleeing rough conditions back home.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, is leading a delegation this week to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador — the chief countries sending illegal immigrants. Afterward, the delegation will visit McAllen, near the southern tip of Texas, where the border situation is still rough.
“House Democrats will constantly visit the border to demand that conditions are improved to reflect American values and to respect the dignity of every person,” Mrs. Pelosi said in announcing the trip Thursday.
Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, said he was in McAllen on Thursday and joined Border Patrol agents for a boat trip along the Rio Grande, where they saw Mexico’s stepped-up presence on the other side.
He also defended the Homeland Security personnel he said are dealing with the crisis, and he pointed out that the Rio Grande Central Processing Facility that draws so much criticism for conditions now was opened in 2014, under President Obama.
“At the time, it was hailed as the ‘gold standard’ of border facilities,” Mr. Jordan said in a Twitter message.
The situation in McAllen underscores the varying stories along the border.
The surrounding Rio Grande sector is still running at a high number of Border Patrol apprehensions, with only a 25% drop last month from the peak in May. But apprehensions in El Paso are down 70% from May to July, and Yuma’s number is down nearly 75%.
Brian Hastings, chief of operations at the Border Patrol, said that is more proof that Mexico’s cooperation is helping, with the Migrant Protection Protocol having taken hold in those areas.
Chief Hastings also said stepped-up Mexican patrols in those two sectors have managed to break up the large groups that marked the migration surge in April and May.
Mexican officials have had a tougher time, however, combating the cartels that control the illegal traffic into southern Texas, Chief Hastings said. The cartels are entrenched in Tamaulipas, the most northeastern state in Mexico, bordering Brownsville and McAllen in Texas.
Homeland Security officials are looking for deeper cuts to illegal crossings and point to a deal Guatemalan officials signed to take back asylum seekers from points farther south who cross their territory en route to the U.S.
Mr. Morgan said the declines over the past two months are paying off in terms of better border security.
For one thing, he said, agents in places like El Paso and Yuma are getting back to their regular patrol duties. They had been pulled from those duties to babysit the surge of migrants, performing hospital watch or transportation.
Mr. Morgan said all of the El Paso sector’s highway checkpoints were reopened Monday and agents that day seized a load with 9 pounds of heroin at the Las Cruces checkpoint.