When President Trump signed his executive order on immigration in January, he declared his desire to build a “contiguous and impassable physical barrier” along the southern border. Two months later, Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly told the Senate that “it’s unlikely that we will build a wall or physical barrier from sea to shining sea.”
Trump’s desire to build a wall seems to run against the opinions of immigration officials who have years of experience in U.S. border enforcement. Although many agree the border needs more funding and improvements, the overwhelming majority say a wall along the entire Southwest border is unnecessary.
OF CUSTOMS AND
CHIEFS OF BORDER
Raymond W. Kelly
R. Gil Kerlikowske
Michael J. Fisher
1998 - 2001
2014 - 2017
George J. Weise
W. Ralph Basham
David V. Aguilar
1993 - 1997
2006 - 2009
2004 - 2010
Chief of Border Patrol
Robert C. Bonner
2001 - ’03 (CS) |
Since 2012, more immigrants have been choosing to present themselves to authorities directly at ports of entry.
Gil Kerlikowske, chief of U.S. Customs and Border Protection under President Barack Obama, said immigration authorities have recognized this as a new trend. “We have seen a change in this last year,” he said. “Over the past several years, people were walking up and turning themselves in between ports of entry. In the last year, we saw more people walking to ports of entry and turning themselves in.”
Norma Pimentel, who has helped immigrant families at her Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, Tex., since 2014, said that she has seen an increase in those choosing to turn themselves in.
“A wall is not going to address that,” she said.
Some immigrants choose to turn themselves in because they seek protection. Antonio says he and his family fled Mexico in May from a gang that killed his aunt.
“Two cars arrived and armed men got out of the cars. They broke down the door. I could see them,” he said. “My wife, my kid and I started to run to the back door in order to escape. I circled the block, waiting until they were gone. They circled the block, too, searching for us.”
Antonio’s family hid until they could escape by car. When they got to a port of entry, they turned themselves in, asking for protection under U.S. law.
Although there is no official tally on how many individuals turn themselves in between ports of entry, Kerlikowske said, they represent an important number of new arrivals today.
“A vast number of people are turning themselves in. They are not trying to elude Border Patrol. ... I don’t even use the word ‘apprehensions.’ It is much more of a border management problem,” he said.
Michael Fisher, who was head of U.S. Border Patrol from 2010 to 2015, confirmed this:
“There are some organizations that will tell some of the women and children from Central America: ‘Just go across the river, go left and Border Patrol will pick you up.’”
MICHAEL J. FISHER
FORMER CHIEF OF THE U.S. BORDER PATROL
For Border Patrol statistics, immigrants who turn themselves in between ports of entry are still considered apprehensions, as they crossed the border illegally.
“At the end of the day, those individuals, once it has been determined they are illegally in this country, that is an arrest — whether they are waiting for us in the lobby or whether we have to chase them,” Fisher said.
Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly told the Senate that his agency had seen a “massive drop” in apprehensions in February and March. In a statement in March, he said the drop was the result of the administration’s “implementation of Executive Orders to enforce immigration laws.” For David V. Aguilar, a former Border Patrol chief who also served as deputy and acting commissioner for CBP, this drop shows the new administration is “having an impact in the flow into this country. Can that be sustained? One of the ways is keeping the removals that are being carried out now,” he said.
On Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions directed federal prosecutors across the country to make immigration cases a higher priority and look for opportunities to bring serious felony charges against those who cross the border illegally.
Still under U.S. law, individuals who show credible fears can be allowed protection. The number of asylum seekers claiming fear of persecution or torture if returned to their country of origin has grown from 5,241 in 2006 to 94,048 in 2016. According to an annual report by DHS in 2016, the backlog of pending asylum cases has increased 1,400 percent in the last five years, and asylum applications and credible fear claims are reducing agency resources on a significant scale.
Credible fear workload, cases received monthly by USCIS
Ports of entry
Source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
Individuals who visited the U.S. legally but overstayed their visas have outnumbered those who arrived illegally since 2007.
In addition to those who voluntarily present themselves to U.S. authorities, there is a larger group that wouldn’t encounter the wall: People who cross legally on a temporary nonimmigrant visa and overstay.
In 2014, visa overstays accounted for two-thirds of new unauthorized immigrants, according to a recent report by the Center for Migration Studies authored by the group’s executive director, Donald Kerwin, and Robert Warren, former director of statistics for the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).
According to the report, overstays have exceeded illegal crossings at the southwest border since 2007, and in 2014 they accounted for 42 percent of the undocumented population, a percentage that “will continue to increase as long as overstaying continues to be the predominant mode of arrival.” This trend follows years of border fortification and a reduction in the number of migrants from Mexico choosing to make the journey.
New undocumented in the country each year, in percentage
Legally crossed a port of entry and overstayed
Source: Center for Migration Studies
“I think it is important that policy makers have the best information for making new policies,” Warren said. “They should be giving feedback to the people in the embassies.”
But counting overstayers efficiently has always been a challenge for the United States, as there is no system in place at ports of entry to keep track of those exiting. Almost two decades passed between the last report on the subject, by the INS in 1997, and DHS’s report in 2016. Even more striking is that information is still missing on how many overstayers crossed through land ports because there is a lack of infrastructure to collect information on exiting visitors. At sea- and airports, carriers are responsible for doing so.
LACK OF INFRASTRUCTURE
TO CONTROL OVERSTAYS
Foreign nationals who overstayed
their visas for business or pleasure
in visits via air or sea:
The only reliable way for DHS to count overstays is matching the biometrical information they collect on arrivals at U.S. air and sea ports with carrier information on departures. At the same time DHS has to subtract from this information those who extended their stay lawfully once in the U.S.
These represent just a part of the total overstays, as it does not include information about land ports. Still, it is the best indicator the U.S. has to determine which countries are more likely to overstay.
(Departures expected to take place between Oct.1, 2014 and Sep. 30, 2015)
VIA AIR AND SEA
Source: U.S. Customs
and Border Protection
What could be improved
As described by Robert Warren, the change in modes of arrival raises important policy questions, “not just about the need for a 2,000-mile wall but about the allocation of immigration enforcement resources” compared to other strategies.
Kerlikowske, who retired as a commissioner of Customs and Border Protection in January, said no one in the new administration had consulted him during the transition. This could raise questions on how information was being transferred between inbound and outbound teams and whether the most recent trends are being reflected in budget allocations.
“During the transition the new administration did not contact me and we had no communication.”
FORMER COMMISSIONER OF U.S. CBP
According to him, “There’s never really been a good system for counting people who leave the United States. … Airports in this country were never designed to have facilities for people leaving.” But there is a lack of infrastructure to do so.
Ralph Basham led four of the eight operational components of what is now the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and was the director of President George W. Bush’s Secret Service. As the CBP commissioner between 2006 and 2009, he led the agency as it built 670 miles of fencing and doubled the size of Border Patrol in over two years.
“Aside from the overstays, the ports of entries are challenged. Their infrastructures need to be replaced to deal with the flow of drugs, illegal coming across and trafficking,” he said.
“You don’t need that type of infrastructure along 2,000 miles,” he added. “It needs to make sense where you put your dollars.”
“I’ve had numerous conversations with the administration regarding what our experiences were. Whether they take my advices or not is up to them,” Basham said.
“To secure the borders, you can’t just pick up a phone and build a wall or a fence.”
FORMER COMMISSIONER OF U.S. CBP
For Robert Bonner, who served as commissioner of the CBP between 2003 and 2006, there’s no question that the border needs more fencing and that existing fencing needs to be improved. But he doesn’t believe it is necessary along the whole border.
“It might be marginally helpful, but more sophisticated sensoring might be even more helpful, at least for some regions of the border,” Bonner said.
“I am not convinced we need a 2,000 mile fence or wall in order to achieve control of the border.”
COMMISSIONER OF CBP 2003-2005
COMMISSIONER OF CUSTOMS 2001-2003
When asked about creating new physical barriers at the border, Doris Meissner, commissioner of INS under Clinton, said, “The thinking now is fighting yesterday’s battles.”
Meissner was responsible for building up the first fence along the border in the 1990s, near urban areas like San Diego. Meissner said Trump created his candidacy by describing a border that is still out of control.
“Enough people were persuaded that was what we need. But is it rational? Is it consistent with the facts as we know them? No, it is not,” Meissner said.
David Aguilar said Border Patrol needs additional fencing, personnel and more technology, but in addition to border enforcement, he highlighted the need for “building up our capability on immigration judges.”
“There is a lot that can be done beyond the law enforcement aspect of what has been done and that needs to be the focus.”
DAVID V. AGUILAR
FORMER ACTING COMMISSIONER FOR U.S. CBP
FORMER CHIEF OF BORDER PATROL
“The people that are from the places other than Mexico are not going to be as responsive to the tactics and the capabilities that we applied in 2000,” he continued.
Aguilar, who said the wall could have an important deterrent effect, said that technology might fit better along some segments of the border.
For Kerlikowske, more could also be done in countries of origin.
“If they were safer, and have opportunities, and their economies were better you wouldn’t have people from those countries subjected to the environment, smugglers, robberies, sexual assault, et cetera,” Kerlikowske said. “So there are things that could be done, but it just doesn’t get as much attention as the big wall.”
To understand how enforcement has changed in the past two decades, The Washington Post asked seven former commissioners of border agencies — appointed by Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton — and other officials and analysts about trends and security needs over time.
at ports of entry
and were declared
Sources: Center for Migration Studies
U.S. Customs and
U.S. Citizenship and
When President Trump signed his executive order on immigration in
A Princeton PhD, was a U.S. diplomat for over 20 years, mostly in Central/Eastern Europe, and was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service in 1997. He has taught courses for many years at Georgetown University pertaining to propaganda and public diplomacy. He currently shares ideas on the theme "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United" to Eurasian/European delegates participating in the "Open World" program.
Brown’s articles have appeared in numerous publications. A recent piece is “Janus-Faced Public Diplomacy: Creel and Lippmann During the Great War” (published in Nontraditional U.S. Public Diplomacy: Past, Present, and Future).
He is the author (with S. Grant) of The Russian Empire and the USSR: A Guide to Manuscripts and Archival Materials in the United States. He also served as an editor/translator of a joint U.S.-Soviet publication, The Establishment of Russian-American Relations, 1765-1815.