United States border guards apprehended or rejected 970,000 people at or near the border with Mexico this year through September, an 88 percent jump from a year earlier, US immigration officials said on Tuesday.
The number of apprehensions and rejections at the border for this fiscal year represent an 11-year high. However, after peaking in May at 144,255, the monthly totals have dropped. In September, 52,000 people were apprehended or rejected at the border, a low for the year.
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Some have pointed to that recent drop as an indication that President Donald Trump‘s strict immigration policies, which have attempted to deter migrants and asylum seekers, are beginning to take effect. Others have suggested the decline is part of a seasonal drop, as migration at the border tends to taper off during the hot summer months.
Nearly half all those detained in September were children or families, many of them led by human-trafficking cartels, said Robert Perez, deputy commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection.
“They are profiting on the backs of this vulnerable population, and that’s why it’s still a crisis,” Perez said at a news conference at the border in El Paso on Tuesday.
Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan said there had been “dramatic strides” thanks to Trump policy changes and Mexican cooperation, but that far too many people were crossing the border.
“It’s 1,400 apprehensions a day. That’s still at crisis levels,” Morgan said.
Trump has made immigration a centrepiece presidency and re-election campaign.
Critics have accused the president of implementing inhumane practices that they say have included denying asylum to those with legitimate claims, cruelly detaining migrants in substandard conditions and separating children from parents.
In the spring of 2018, the Trump administration enacted a “zero tolerance” policy on immigration. As part of the policy, children were regularly separated from their parents, who were detained.
Following widespread condemnation and outrage over the practice, Trump signed an executive order ending family separation in July of last year. Rights groups say the many families remain separated, however.
The Trump administration has more recently sought to curtail the number of asylum seekers, mostly from the impoverished and violent Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
About 15 percent of Central Americans who have made asylum claims in recent years have been granted some type of relief or protection from US immigration judges, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
In July, the Trump administration created a rule that prevented anyone from claiming asylum in the US if they travelled through another country in which they could have claimed asylum. Since then, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador have signed agreements that could lead to them absorbing asylum applicants from the US border. The details of those agreements are unclear.
Trump has also enacted the so-called “Remain in Mexico” policy, which requires migrants and asylum seekers attempting to enter the US through the southern border to wait in Mexico until their case is heard in court.
Last week, the Justice Department announced plans to collect migrant DNA at the border, a move derided by rights groups.