US illegal border crossings rise in May despite arrest policy

US Border Patrol agents detaining undocumented immigrants from Central America after capturing them in a grapefruit orchard near McAllen, Texas
AFP

Washington (AFP) – More than 50,000 people were arrested on the US-Mexico border for the third month in a row in May, indicating the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” crackdown has failed to stem illegal immigration, official data showed Wednesday.

Despite President Donald Trump’s order in early May to begin arresting all illegal border crossers and separate children from their parents, arrests at the border were up 160 percent over a year earlier and slightly higher from April.

The data showed that families and unaccompanied children continued to flood the border from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, where persistent violence has encouraged many to seek asylum in the United States.

The numbers indicate a high level of people successfully sneaking into the country, though it was not clear if they also point to more successful interdictions after an expansion of frontier policing with the addition of National Guard troops beginning in April.

“We are seeing family units try to illegally cross our borders at staggering rates,” said Department of Homeland Security spokesman Tyler Houlton.

“These numbers show that while the Trump administration is restoring the rule of law, it will take a sustained effort and continuous commitment of resources over many months to disrupt cartels, smugglers, and nefarious actors,” he said.

“We are taking action and will be referring and then prosecuting 100 percent of illegal border crossers; we are building the first new border wall in a decade; and we have deployed the National Guard to the border.”

Trump was reportedly deeply angered in May when border apprehension data showed a rebound in illegal immigration after a sharp fall for his first eight months in office in 2017.

Trump had credited that fall to the success of his administration’s policies, after having promised during his election campaign to halt illegal immigration.

According to media reports he harshly berated DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen over the reversal in early May.

Days later, the government announced it would arrest and charge any illegal border crossers, including those seeking asylum, and separate parents from children to deter future arrivals.

But the child separation policy has drawn strong criticism, with the United Nations Human Rights Office calling the policy a human rights violation.

“The practice of separating families amounts to arbitrary and unlawful interference in family life, and is a serious violation of the rights of the child,” said UN rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani on Tuesday.

“The use of immigration detention and family separation as a deterrent runs counter to human rights standards and principles,” she said. 

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