By The Monitor
In 2017, President Donald Trump took office and pledged to the American people that U.S. immigration policies would be substantially reformed and illegal entries into the United States would stop under his administration. Most importantly, he pledged to American workers that they would get their jobs back from those who were here illegally and drawing paychecks, and that he would build a wall on the Southwest border — right through the Rio Grande Valley — to deter further illegal immigrants.
His brash tone and divisive rhetoric played to the political right and working-class Americans who had felt alienated and abandoned under Barack Obama’s administration. But it has also alienated Mexico, one of our most important trading partners. To date, renegotiations with the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) between the United States, Mexico and Canada remain stalled and greatly threaten the economic stability of our region.
But there is no mistaking that Trump has delivered on his word to deter illegal immigration in the United States. Whether because of fear of arrest or deportation, the number of arrests of immigrants decreased dramatically in fiscal 2017, during Trump’s first year in office.
The Department of Homeland Security in December announced fiscal 2017 arrests by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) were 310,531 nationwide, 303,916 of which were along the Southwest border. This is down 31 percent from 450,954 total nationwide arrests by Border Patrol in fiscal 2016. Arrests on the Southwest border were down a quarter, or 26 percent, from 408,870 in fiscal 2016 under Obama’s last year in office.
Despite this drop, DHS reported an uptick beginning in May in illegal entry arrests by unaccompanied minors and families. And by year’s end, 48,681 children had crossed alone and were under the care of federal authorities, just 18 percent below the 59,757 unaccompanied children detained in fiscal 2016.
The future of children who came to this country illegally was probably the most sensitive immigration-related issue faced by our country in 2017. Polls also showed that a majority of Americans felt that those who were brought here as children — otherwise known as Dreamers — should be afforded the ability to stay in this country as long as they remained in school, attained good jobs or served in our military. And so when President Trump suddenly announced in September that he was ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program beginning this year, it tugged at enough American heartstrings that it even spurred action on Capitol Hill among lawmakers who have been woefully slow to take up immigration policies.
Trump’s apparent concern for these youth and his stated willingness to help them — in exchange for other actions, like construction of a border wall, and funds cut to sanctuary cities — is expected to play out fully in 2018 and will no doubt provide for much drama in Washington that will directly impact the RGV.
Since 2014, the Monitor’s Editorial Board has chronicled our nation’s immigration crisis through a series of editorials, columns and graphics. We have made dozens of policy suggestions over the years on how to reform immigration, a subject that will have an impact on everyone in the Rio Grande Valley. Some of our suggestions have been put into laws; some have been filed as laws not yet passed; and some have been outright ignored.
As we continue to follow this complex issue in 2018, we will continue to offer recommendations, and we encourage readers to send us their thoughts in the form of letters or guest columns. Most importantly, we call upon citizens to be actively engaged in this process by remaining abreast of issues, holding lawmakers accountable and by utilizing their right to vote.
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