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Illegal Border Crossings Appear to Drop Under Trump

The New York Times logo The New York Times 9/03/2017 NICHOLAS KULISH and FERNANDA SANTOS

A U.S. Border Patrol agent stands at the U.S.-Mexico border fence on November 17, 2016 in San Luis, Arizona. © John Moore/Getty Images A U.S. Border Patrol agent stands at the U.S.-Mexico border fence on November 17, 2016 in San Luis, Arizona. The number of undocumented immigrants caught along the southwest United States border fell significantly last month, which the Trump administration said Wednesday was a sign that its hard line on illegal immigration might already be discouraging border crossers.

Roughly 840 people a day were caught or stopped from entering the United States from Mexico in February, according to Customs and Border Protection, a drop of about 36 percent from the previous February.

Just as significant, the number was down about 39 percent from January, a reversal of a yearslong trend of apprehensions increasing in February as the temperature begins to rise and more people try to cross the border.

The data is likely to please supporters of Mr. Trump and could let him take credit for quickly making good on his promise to clamp down on illegal immigration. “The early results show that enforcement matters, deterrence matters, and that comprehensive immigration enforcement can make an impact,” John F. Kelly, the homeland security secretary, said in a statement.

The flow of people across the United States’ southern border has long depended on many factors, including the economy and violence in their home countries, and even the weather. But chief among them is America’s own immigration policy, and experts said they were not surprised to see a slowdown even before Mr. Trump’s executive orders on immigration have taken full effect or his signature wall has been built.

“Deterrence through perception is central to these executive orders,” said Faye Hipsman, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute. “Even floating the possibility of expanding detention at the border makes somebody less likely to come.”

Since taking office, Mr. Trump has made clear that undocumented immigrants will have a tougher time getting into and staying in the United States. Beyond constructing a border wall, a rallying cry during his campaign, he has expanded the authority of immigration enforcement officers and pledged to hire more of them; raised the threshold for entry to the United States based on claims of persecution back home; and called for more detentions and quicker deportations of those already in the country illegally.

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington-based group that favors more limits on immigration, said all signs pointed to a decline in migration similar to that seen after the Reagan administration’s sweeping immigration reform law of 1986. It gave amnesty to many immigrants who had entered the United States before 1982, while promising tighter security at the Mexican border and tough penalties for companies hiring undocumented workers.

“The talk of tougher enforcement can, in fact, lead to reductions in the flow, but only for a short period of time if the words aren’t backed up with action,” Mr. Krikorian said. During the Reagan years, he said, “the promises of tougher enforcement didn’t exactly pan out.”

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