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Illegal crossings at US/Mexico border at 17-year-low and Trump is getting the credit

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly says the numbers are “no accident”

A worker welds a new fence between the Anapra neighborhood of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico and Sunland Park, New Mexico,
A worker welds a new fence between the Anapra neighborhood of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico and Sunland Park, New Mexico,
Image: Rodrigo Abd/PA Images

FEWER THAN 12,500 people were caught at the United States’s southern border in March, the lowest monthly figure in at least 17 years and the second straight month that border arrests dropped sharply.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, in testimony submitted to a Senate committee, called the decline “no accident” and credited Trump.

But those working in shelters and experts on migration say it will take several more months to judge whether any drop-off is lasting, and that the numbers could surge again as quickly as they’ve fallen.

Trump’s vows to step up deportations and build his signature border wall were widely spread in Central America, according to three migrants who recently arrived in Texas and spoke to the Associated Press.

Kelly also announced last month that authorities might start separating adults and children crossing the border, to deter families from trying to enter the US

For years, tens of thousands of migrants every month would cross the United States’ southern border. Traffic has surged in recent years of people crossing into Texas from three Central American countries torn by gang violence and poverty: El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

Former President Barack Obama’s administration also publicised deportations and tried to dissuade Central Americans from heading north, particularly during the 2014 surge of families and children traveling alone to cross the border.

Officials took credit when border arrests fell during his tenure, only to see the numbers rise again.

Some think the real “Trump effect” was pushing fearful people to move up their journeys and get to the U.S. before he took office. Border arrests in October, November and December increased by about a third compared to the same period in 2015, before falling this year.

“The election and the possibility that the wall, everything was going to happen, encouraged them to come now,” said Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, which operates the shelter at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen.

PA-30329423 U.S. President Donald Trump shows a hat that says: 'Make County great again' Source: Pool/ABACA

Trump focused on the constant flow of migrants from the start of his campaign, when he denounced border crossers as criminals and rapists, and repeatedly promised to build a wall and step up deportations.

His administration has started taking bids to build a wall and requested funding for more immigration judges and Border Patrol agents.

Most agree Trump’s statements affected migrant traffic. Four shelters along the Texas portion of the border, where most crossers enter the United States, say they’ve seen their numbers fall to a fraction of what they were seeing late last year.

And La 72, a shelter near the Mexico-Guatemala border, saw its numbers in February and March fall by nearly half compared to the same months in 2016, suggesting that fewer people are leaving Central America.

Read: ‘Neither confrontation nor submission’: Trump’s top diplomat in Mexico to calm tensions >

Read: Donald Trump is getting serious about his border wall. Could it actually happen? >

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Associated Press

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