The number of migrant families detained by U.S. officials along the southern border has barely changed from June to July, indicating that the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy has failed to deter migrants from entering the United States.
Recent data released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Wednesday shows that over the past two months, there was a decrease of nearly 7 percent in people apprehended at the border. But July 2018 numbers reflect a 57 percent increase compared to July 2017. Apprehensions of families increased more than 142 percent over the past year, with more than 9,200 undocumented family members detained in July 2018. As The Washington Post noted, overall, more families with children have entered the United States in fiscal 2018 than at any time during Barack Obama’s presidency.
“People have no choice. They’re fleeing potential death to themselves, to their kids,” Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s National Immigrants’ Rights Project told MSNBC. “It’s not going to deter and it’s inhumane.”
The recent numbers also reflect a significant spike from March 2018, before the administration’s zero-tolerance policy was announced. Under the policy, officials can prosecute all people, including asylum seekers, who do not cross into the United States at ports of entry or who make false statements to immigration officials. As a result, thousands of families were separated from one another since April, while parents awaited prosecution.
“To those who wish to challenge the Trump Administration’s commitment to public safety, national security, and the rule of law, I warn you: illegally entering this country will not be rewarded, but will instead be met with the full prosecutorial powers of the Department of Justice,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement at the time of the policy announcement in April.
But the threats seem to have gone unnoticed by migrants who continue to cross into the United States. Indeed, detention has long been seen as an ineffective curb on immigration.
A 2013 study by the University of Southern California Gould School of Law found that the threat of arrest or punishment does little to dissuade migrants from crossing the U.S. border. As many migrants who cross the border are fleeing violence or are seeking to reunite with family members already in the United States, few are thwarted by the possibility of detention.
Heightened criticism of the zero tolerance policy eventually compelled Trump to sign an executive order in June to halt family separation, while keeping the zero-tolerance policy in place, opting to detain families together. Since then, the administration has been scrambling to reunite thousands of families it separated over the past several months. Hundreds still remain separated.