SAN ANTONIO — The U.S. Border Patrol chief is worried that the positive effect President Trump's election, rhetoric and actions have had on lowering illegal immigrant apprehensions may be wearing off, and that the U.S. will need to shore up the border further to avoid another surge.
When asked by reporters Thursday if the "Trump effect" on illegal immigration was waning, Customs and Border Protection Deputy Commissioner Ronald Vitiello said, "there's a little bit of that."
Although border apprehensions hit a 45-year low in fiscal year 2017, the number of family units and unaccompanied minors began increasing again in October, a period when numbers typically drop due to migrants not wanting to travel north during cooler months.
"Despite the historic low, that’s only half the story and it’s not the most important half," Vitiello said after addressing hundreds of border and immigration officers at the Border Security Expo in San Antonio. "Apprehensions are starting to rise again. Beginning in the spring, we experienced month to month increases in apprehensions of inadmissible cases along the southwest border, notably from children or members of family units. In fact, family units as the number of total number of apprehensions has been steadily increasing since 2015."
Until legal loopholes are shut by revising policy so that unaccompanied minors and family units from noncontiguous countries are immediately removed upon being picked up or surrendering to border agents, Vitiello said, the lure for illegal immigration will remain and the numbers are likely to continue climbing.
"If people want changes in the system ... they can’t come to the government for that, they need to go to the legislature for that," he added.
The border chief also admitted the constant talk about providing a pathway to citizenship for individuals who were brought to the U.S. as minors "could be" contributing to the recent uptick in illegal immigration.
"In my long experience, what we’ve seen on the border is that if there is a consequence for you entering the country illegally — in the case of Central Americans — if they’re removed quickly, then fewer of them will come," he explained. "Does the discussion drive more traffic? It may or may not. The end game is what really has the most impact."