The Trump administration has taken credit for the decrease; White House press secretary Sean Spicer attributes the decline to Trump's immigration policies, which he claims are "already showing results"
. A drop in Southwest border apprehensions also implies a slowing of the overall flow of unauthorized, or illegal, immigration into the United States, of which apprehensions serve as a good, albeit partial indicator. On Monday, National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd characterized
the drop in apprehensions as "nothing short of miraculous". So what is the exact data behind claims of a massive decrease in Southwest border apprehensions?
The number of apprehensions at the Southwest or US-Mexico border serves as a good heuristic (or estimation) of the total flow of unauthorized immigration into the United States. It obviously isn't a perfect measure of all attempted unauthorized immigration, since it suffers from under-coverage; evidently there are many who are not caught by the United States Border Patrol or federal law enforcement. That being said, we can safely assume that the figure is roughly proportionate to the total scale of unauthorized immigration into the United States. This relationship is corroborated by analysis from the Pew Research Center
, which concludes that changes in southwest border apprehensions (as reported by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency) are similarly reflected in emigration data from Mexico.
Since Trump took office, there have been 17,381 apprehensions of undocumented immigrants at the Southwest border on average per month. Five years before his term, however, this number was considerably reduced at an average of 34,325 per month. We analyzed a period of five years since during that time, the rate of apprehensions remained relatively constant. If we culled data from 2000-2016, barring January 2017, we would arrive at a figure that looks even larger - an average of 63,066 apprehensions per month. This can be explained by the that, taken as a whole, unauthorized immigration has decreased over the past decades by an average of 6,359 apprehensions per month since 1/2001 to 6/2017 compared to the year before. If we consider such information as a percent change, unauthorized immigration is decreasing on average by 5.4% per month (or 4.1% considering only pre-Trump data).
Southwest border apprehensions peaked in 2000 at an average of 134,187 apprehensions per month. Since Trump's election, apprehensions have decreased by 45.5% per month on average, a percentage that dwarfs the pre-Trump average of 4.1%. (This figure is not to be confused with the similar statistic of 46.6%, which results from adding the data for the first six months of 2017 and calculating the percent change between six-month 2017 and 2016 data). In absolute numbers, apprehensions decrease every month compared to the same month of the preceding year by 15,289 apprehensions on average since January. We observe that these numbers are still over the double of the pre-Trump average since 2001, which amounted to a 6,080 reduction per month. This is why it is also imperative to view apprehensions in context of decreases rather than only in terms of absolute numbers, as we do in the following graph.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency has reported that the "year-to-date totals [of apprehensions] for FY 2017 are 19 percent lower than the same period in FY 2016"
. This marks a significantly lower figure than the 47% (46.6%) decrease cited here. However, it is easy to overlook the fact that the agency is referring to data from the entire fiscal year (FY) rather than the standard calendar year starting in January. This means that they include the months of October, November, and December from the year 2016 in their calculations -- months which entirely predate then-candidate President Trump taking office.
If we only compare the total of apprehensions from the first six months of a president's term to the same time window in a preceding year (as the graph does above) we learn that Bush oversaw a 24% decrease in 2001 and a 1% decrease in 2005. Obama oversaw a decrease of 26% in the first six months of his first term, and a 14% increase in the first six months of 2013. Trump has overseen a 47% reduction. In the first six months of every year compared to the last year's time-frame of January to June, Bush oversaw a 8% decrease in apprehensions from 2001 to 2008, and Obama oversaw a 6% reduction from 2009-2016. If we take an average of every single month of a president's term in office, from 2001-2008, we find that Bush oversaw a 7% reduction in apprehensions per month and that Obama oversaw a 1% one from 2009-2016.
At risk of seeing the forest for the trees, it is pretty evident that the flow of unauthorized immigration into the United States has significantly decreased under the first six months of Trump's presidency. This steep decline is relatively unprecedented in recent history, or at least ever since such data started being tracked on a monthly basis.
The U.S. Border Patrol Monthly Apprehensions (FY 2000 - FY 2016) data
used in this analysis was culled from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency. Their findings were also compared to preliminary border apprehensions figures available publicly for the first months of 2017
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