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President Donald Trump told supporters in Kentucky to focus on their basketball team and let him take care of the rest, such as securing the borders and kicking out immigrants in the country illegally.
"We will build, that's right, a great, great border wall … And we will stop the drugs that are pouring into our country and poisoning our youth and plenty of others. We're going to stop the drugs," Trump said March 20. "A lot of them are coming in from the southern border. Since the day of my election, we've already cut illegal immigration at the southern border by 61 percent, think of that, 61 percent, and we haven't started."
Trump has boasted about a 40 percent decline in illegal immigration in his first month in office. We rated that Mostly True. He is now extending the comparison to November to show even more significant cuts.
Border patrol apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border declined 60 percent from November 2016 to February 2017, but immigration experts caution against assuming that declines have been a sole result of Trump’s policies.
Border apprehension data
The Department of Homeland Security on March 8 released illegal border crossing data that show that in the month of the presidential election, November 2016, border patrol made 47,210 apprehensions. In February 2017, there were 18,762 apprehensions, a 60 percent decline.
Total southwest border apprehensions declined about 63 percent from November 2016 to February 2017. DHS defined total apprehensions as those made by border patrol between ports of entry and inadmissibility at ports of entry determined by U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Field Operations.
We asked U.S. Customs and Border Patrol for apprehension data from Election Day to the day before Trump’s Kentucky speech, but the agency said it provides statistics by month, not by specific dates and timeframes.
It’s worth noting that this past fall there was an unseasonal increase of unauthorized border crossings, said Christopher Wilson, deputy director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center.
People rushed to the border before Trump took over and implemented new policies, he said.
"After that rush to the border, it’s natural to expect a decline," Wilson said. "What we cannot still answer is whether this is a temporary or permanent decline."
DHS Secretary John Kelly in a March 8 statement said illegal crossings typically rise between March and May.
While Trump’s rhetoric against illegal immigration has played a role in recent apprehension decreases, apprehension levels are typically lower in the winter months and on-the-ground changes in response to policies can take longer, experts have told us.
"It is almost always necessary to look at trends over a longer period, usually at least six months, to get a better sense of changes," said Denise Gilman, a clinical professor and director of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law. "It seems likely that the numbers of border crossers will go back up again before long given that the human rights situation in Central America is still incredibly problematic, and Central American asylum seekers are one of the main sources of migration in recent years."
Other factors worth considering, according to Gilman are that Mexico may have stepped up its enforcement efforts so that migrants don’t reach the U.S.-Mexico border, and that smugglers may be waiting to decide on new routes for bringing people across the border
Trump said, "Since the day of my election, we've already cut illegal immigration at the Southern border by 61 percent."
While U.S. Customs and Border Protection does not provide border apprehension statistics for specific dates, monthly data show a 60 percent decline from the month of the presidential election, November 2016, to February 2017.
Experts said other factors should be considered in the decline and that it’s too early to tell whether low apprehensions will become the new norm or if they will increase in coming months, as they typically do.
We rate Trump’s statement Mostly True.
CQ, Transcript President Donald Trump Delivers Remarks at Rally, Louisville Ky, March 20, 2017
Department of Homeland Security, Statement by Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly on Southwest Border Security, March 8, 2017
U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Southwest Border Migration, March 8, 2017
White House, Remarks by the President at Make America Great Again Rally, March 15, 2017
White House, Remarks by President Trump at Make America Great Again Rally, Louisville, KY, March 20, 2017
PolitiFact, Donald Trump trumpets 40 percent decrease in illegal border crossings. Is he right?, March 14, 2017
Phone interview, Christopher Wilson, deputy director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center, March 21
Email interview, Denise Gilman, a clinical professor and director of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law, March 14, 2017
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