Border authorities nabbed 42,250 illegal immigrants in October, a 15-month low that suggests the Trump administration has managed largely to solve the border surge that overwhelmed the country earlier this year.
But drug seizures at the border were up 45% in October, including an 84% spike in fentanyl, the deadly opioid synthetic that’s blamed for taking tens of thousands of lives, said acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan.
He said the drug numbers show the smuggling cartels remain active and powerful, and he suggested the U.S. is considering designating the cartels, which control the illegal flows of people and drugs across the border, as terrorist organizations.
“Cartels are alive and well,” Mr. Morgan said in a briefing at the White House. “We’re having discussions on what we can do as a United States government approach.”
Over the last year, those cartels enticed hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrant families, mostly from Central America, to make the trip north across Mexico to try to enter the U.S. illegally.
Mr. Morgan said the Trump administration turned that tide by reaching deals with Mexico and Central American countries to do more to stem the flow.
One major move was the Migration Protection Protocol, under which some 50,000 people, mostly Central Americans, who crossed Mexico en route to the U.S. have been returned to Mexico to wait while their immigration cases continue in the U.S.
Mr. Morgan said those changes have helped cut the Central American flow so much that Mexico is once again the largest sender of migrants caught at the border, and most are now single adults.
That has been the normal historic pattern, but it had been upended over the last 18 months as the Central American families surged.
Fewer than 10,000 people traveling as families were arrested by the Border Patrol in October, the first time it’s been below that level since July 2018. The number of illegal immigrant juveniles apprehended traveling without parents is the lowest since July 2017.
Mr. Morgan, speaking to reporters at the White House, fended off questions about the Homeland Security Department’s leadership, where all of the top immigration jobs is held by someone in an acting position — including himself.
Mr. Morgan also defended President Trump’s wall-building campaign, though he acknowledged no new miles of the border have been fenced in yet beyond what was there when President Barack Obama left office.
“Right now the 78 miles that have been built have been built where there was an existing form of barrier,” he said.
But he said he still considers it all “new” wall, because it’s such an upgrade over what was there before, some fencing or vehicle barriers.
“Every mile of wall that’s being built is a new mile of wall,” he said.
He also said ground has finally been broken in Texas on a section of land where no barrier exists, becoming a brand new wall to protect a currently unfenced area.
• Stephen Dinan can be reached at email@example.com.
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