US Border Patrol agents apprehended more than 337,000 people in 2015 for alleged immigration violations, down 30 percent from the more than 486,000 arrests the year before, according to data released Dec. 22 by the Department of Homeland Security.
At the same time, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported more than 235,000 people in 2015, the department said, down from over 315,000 in 2014 and more than 409,000 in 2012.
Since President Barack Obama took office in January 2009, the US government has deported more than 2.5 million people.
While arrests in and deportations from the United States are down, that is not due to a kinder, gentler enforcement regime, but because there are fewer undocumented immigrants making it near, much less across, the US border with Mexico.
From late 2013 to late 2014, tens of thousands of migrants and refugees from Central America fleeing poverty and violence in their home countries sought asylum in the United States, including roughly 50,000 unaccompanied children. In response to what President Obama called an “urgent humanitarian situation,” his administration, notably, did not start liberally granting asylum. According to the US Department of Justice, of the 3,669 people from Honduras who sought asylum in 2014, just 151 actually received it; more than 4,250 Guatemalans applied and just 175 had their asylum requests granted; and of the nearly 6,000 people from El Salvador who applied, all but 184 were sent packing, assuming they had any possessions left to pack.
By October 2015, at least 83 of those deported asylum-seekers had been murdered after being sent back to the countries they had fled, according to a study of local media reports. Maybe, it turns out, they had been telling the truth.
Rather than extend the humanity it prides itself on when admonishing others, the US responded to America’s very own refugee crisis by building family detention centers – later ruled illegal – and offering Mexico more than US $120 million to step up enforcement along its own southern border.
That money, with US promises of more to come, has had a major impact. A September 2015 report from the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, DC, found that in terms of asylum-seekers and other migrants, “Mexico’s apprehensions were projected to increase by about 70 percent” by the end of 2015, a pattern that “also holds true for minors.” By October, the New York Times found that Mexico had arrested more than 92,000 Central Americans, compared to less than 71,000 in the United States, “a sharp departure from the past few years.”
In short, the US addressed what its own president declared a humanitarian crisis in 2014 by, in 2015, stepping up payments to its southern neighbor with the intent of stopping poor and scared people seeking asylum and a better life – including children whose parents were so desperate they sent them off to find hope in the US on their own – from getting so far as the jails that the US built to house asylum-seekers. Keep people from crossing the US border and you keep them from claiming asylum in the first place, while keeping their desperate faces off the evening news.
Thanks to Mexico, and the generosity of the US government when it comes to funding Latin America’s most abusive security forces, the cruelty of closed borders is out of sight and out of mind, at least when it comes to most US news consumers, and the many migrants denied the chance to the wealthiest nation in the world’s much vaunted humanitarianism up close. Now that most are not even making it to the US for the chance to be deported, who knows how many more have died after being deported from somewhere else with the help of US tax dollars. One thing is for sure, based on the US government’s end-of-year statistics: No one in Washington is bothering to count.