E.g., 10/17/2019
E.g., 10/17/2019

From Control to Crisis: Changing Trends and Policies Reshaping U.S.-Mexico Border Enforcement

Reports
August 2019

From Control to Crisis: Changing Trends and Policies Reshaping U.S.-Mexico Border Enforcement

Apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border could approach the 1 million mark for fiscal 2019, a remarkable turnaround for a U.S. border security environment that just two years ago had witnessed the lowest levels of illegal immigration since 1971. How did what was once a major but often unrecognized success story become an out-of-control humanitarian and border security crisis? What are the push factors in Central America and the pull factors in the United States that have led to near-record migration flows in the past few months, when many of these factors have been present for years?

This report draws on enforcement and other data from the United States, Mexico, and Central America, as well as analysis of changing migration trends and Trump administration policies to comprehensively tell this story. An enforcement system designed for the main challenge at the border for decades—illegal immigration of Mexican adults—has not been repointed to address the rapidly changing flows of families and unaccompanied children from Central America, many seeking humanitarian protection, others wanting work or to reunite with relatives already in the United States. The change has been dramatic: In 2008, Mexicans comprised more than 90 percent of apprehensions. By fiscal 2019, Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Salvadorans represented nearly three-quarters of apprehensions, with two-thirds composed of families or unaccompanied children.

The border enforcement model must be urgently re-envisioned given the changing characteristics of today’s mixed flows, and with migration from Central America and potentially from other parts of the hemisphere and regions of the world, constituting today’s major and longer-term challenge to U.S.-Mexico border security and border management, the authors write.

Rather than taking on ever more enforcement-oriented and punitive measures, which paradoxically have made the situation at the border worse, the U.S. government must turn its attention to a range of other elements. These include focusing on improving the asylum system to make processing more timely while remaining fair; reconfiguring border enforcement strategies and operations; increasing the use of supervised release pending asylum decisions; and an increased focus on regional cooperation in migration management and in tackling root causes of migration.

Table of Contents 

I.    Overview: From Control to Crisis

II.    The Southwest Border Story: An Evolution

A.    Recent Trends in Apprehensions
B.    Changing Origins and Characteristics of Apprehended Migrants

III.    Migration Push Factors in Central America
A.    High Population Growth Rates
B.    Low Per-Capita Incomes and Wages
C.    Climate Change and Drought
D.    Violence and Insecurity
E.    Corruption and Political Instability
F.    The Combination of Push Factors

IV.    Pull Factors in the United States
A.    Familial or Other Connections
B.    U.S. Policies that Permit Extended Stays and Attempted Policy Shifts
C.    A Strong U.S. Job Market

V.    Factors Governing Transit through Mexico

VI.    Policy Recommendations and Final Thoughts