Across the southwest border, the number of immigrants caught crossing into the United States illegally has dropped dramatically. March saw less than 12,200 people caught. That’s a 64 percent decrease from last year, and the lowest monthly number in 17 years.
Rio Grande Valley is ground zero (since 2014) for asylum seekers fleeing violence and persecution in Central America. The number of families and unaccompanied children caught entering the U.S. has decreased from 291 per day in January to 37 per day in March.
There are many factors to consider in this drop. They include President Trump’s aggressive stance on securing the border, heightened security on Mexico’s southern border and a rise in smuggling fees.
Marlene Castro, a supervisory Border Patrol, has worked for Customs and Border Protection for almost 20 years. She insists agents aren’t doing anything differently, and the Trump administration executive orders are enforcing laws already on the books.
An associate professor of public affairs and security studies at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley says, “There’s a perception that it’s going to be very difficult for immigrants to cross into the U.S and stay in the U.S. It makes them think twice because the commitment is too big”. Many immigrants are now calculating whether it’s worth paying smugglers as much as $7,000-$11,000 to lead them on dangerous routes.
The decline in numbers is a good thing, but many agree it’s too early to detect a long-term pattern. “People might be biding their time and putting off a journey for a few months,” said a policy analyst at the Migration Policy institute. The number of immigrants crossing the border has dropped from 1.6 million in 2000 to 415,000 in 2016.
More than 3,000 Border Patrol agents already monitor the Rio Grande Valley sectors 315-mile border. Manual Padilla, Chief of Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley sector, wants to see something like what transformed California, Arizona, and New Mexico. “We need the wall—or wall and fence combo, whatever that ends up looking like—to stop the people from coming over. People will say ‘Well, it doesn’t stop people’. But it slows them down in order for us to be able to respond.”