After Trump broke his promise and unconstitutionally administered Obama’s illegal amnesty, I warned that although the border crossings had dipped during the first few months of his presidency, at some point word would get out that he’s a paper tiger. Last week, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported an 11 percent increase in illegal border crossings during the month of June. Does this portend a trend to come, and does it reflect a change in perception among potential illegal immigrants as to how strong the president really is on immigration? The answer to those questions is likely in the president’s own hands.
One of the greatest accomplishments of Trump’s presidency has not come from a specific policy change, but from the universal anticipation of a policy change. Illegal immigration has plummeted to 17-year lows during the first few months of this administration, a clear sign that, as many of us have argued for years, illegal immigration is all about perception. Merely projecting a tough image and protecting our sovereignty will go a long way toward dissuading illegal aliens from making a trip that will likely end with no amnesty and no benefits.
However, the levels of illegal immigration have been climbing the past two months and showed that 11 percent increase in June. While the overall level of illegal immigration is still well below what it was last June, the trend is concerning, because illegal immigration always dips during the hotter months of the year. For example, last year, the level of illegal immigration dropped by 17 percent from May to June. The oppressive weather in the desert along the border is one of the biggest deterrents for illegal immigrants during the summer months.
While the June numbers could be a mere aberration from a broader positive trajectory, if the numbers continue to climb despite the hot weather, it is very likely that the promise of “Dream amnesty” and the Trump administration’s continuing, illegal DACA program is the culprit. White House spokesman Sean Spicer has defended Trump’s amnesty as reflective of the president’s “heart.” Just in the first three months of this year (data from April through June is not out yet), Trump’s DHS renewed or issued 125,000 amnesty cards.
There is a lot of evidence that the promise of amnesty so long as you migrate here with children stokes the incentives for illegal immigration. In 2014, the El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) drafted a memo asserting that 95 percent of the border-crossers interviewed cited the promise of amnesty as the primary factor behind their migration, not violence back home. This promise turned out to be correct, as only four percent of the Central American teenagers have been deported (as opposed to Mexico, which deported 90 percent of its Central American migrants). The rate of border crossings by unaccompanied minors and family units skyrocketed immediately after Obama announced DACA.
Is it possible that potential migrants were initially dissuaded by Trump’s campaign rhetoric but are now returning because of the promise of amnesty? It is important to note that while the overall rate of illegal immigration rose 11 percent in June (despite the hot weather), the number of unaccompanied minors rose by 31 percent, and the number of family units apprehended spiked by 48 percent from the previous month.
This is why it’s so essential for conservatives to speak out now about the need to build the wall, pass comprehensive interior enforcement legislation, and telegraph the message that we are done with Obama’s illegal DACA amnesty.
According to Rosemary Jenks, a leading immigration policy expert, we now stand at a crossroads in terms of policy and messaging to potential illegal migrants. Jenks told CR via email, “There is no question that the election of President Trump sent a clear message to thousands of would-be illegal border crossers that they would no longer be welcome in the United States, so the number of illegal crossers dropped precipitously.”
However, Jenks warns that the perception of toughness from Trump will not last forever if it’s not backed up by action: “And while there has been a steady uptick in enforcement activities, the continuation of DACA under President Trump, as well as the administration's failure to implement effectively the changes the president called for in handling unaccompanied minors who cross illegally, have caused illegal immigration to begin to increase. There should be no question that illegal immigration will surge again if the president fails to follow through on his campaign promises to end DACA, build the wall, and mandate E-Verify.”
We have laid out over a dozen policy ideas for Trump to protect our sovereignty and security, but those bills will not pass the House and Senate unless the president takes a leadership role in demanding that McConnell and Ryan act upon them. Moreover, he must terminate the amnesty program and threaten to veto any budget bill that does not contain requisite funding for the border wall — if he wants to secure the gains he’s made in combating illegal immigration.
Finally, as Rosemary Jenks referenced, the administration does not appear to be following up on its promise to stop catch and release of the so-called unaccompanied minors. There is a dangerous misconception of the “Wilberforce” human trafficking law that has led past administrations to reflexively release all unaccompanied minors traveling to this country. But almost all of them are not “severely trafficked,” as defined by the statute, and in fact, most of them are self-trafficked and are therefore not entitled to special treatment. And 30 percent of them have ties to gangs. Section 11(e) of one of Trump’s first immigration orders promised to end this practice, but there is no evidence that it has changed. Is this the reason behind the initial downtick and recent spike in unaccompanied minors?
Unlike with other policies, when it comes to illegal immigration, words actually speak as strongly as actions to deter illegal immigration. There is a wealth of history to demonstrate this point, most recently with the precipitous drop in border crossings following Trump’s election. However, it won’t last forever if the actions contradict the words. It’s the job of conservatives to ensure those words are buttressed by actions, not countermanded by them.