The nation's Homeland Security chief said late Wednesday that illegal crossings at the U.S. southern border have seen "an unprecedented decline in traffic" that he says coincide with the president's new executive orders focusing on immigration laws.
Secretary of Homeland Security John F. Kelly said the drop -- as measured by arrests and people halted from entering the country at the border -- is around 40% for the first two months of the year. Typically, January and February are busy months for illegal border crossings.
Kelly, nominated by Trump in December to take over homeland security, said the decline "is trending toward the lowest monthly total in at least the last five years." People apprehended at the border dropped from 31,578 to 18,762, Kelly said.
"Since President Trump took office on January 20, we have seen a dramatic drop in numbers," Kelly said. "This trend is encouraging because it means many fewer people are putting themselves and their families at risk of exploitation, assault and injury by human traffickers and the physical dangers of the treacherous journey north.
Kelly said the department is also seeing an increase in the fees charged by human smugglers along the southwest border. Since Nov. 2016, “coyotes” have hiked their fees in some areas by roughly 130 percent - from $3,500 to $8,000 in certain mountainous regions. Changes in U.S. policy, including the detention of apprehended aliens, drive up the smuggling fees, Kelly said.
Trump's immigration policy has been the source of contentious debate ever since he hit the campaign trail. Trump has regularly highlighted crimes committed by undocumented immigrants and embraced the families of the victims of those crimes.
His new directives allow Customs agents to send some people directly back to Mexico, whether they’re Mexican or not. Under previous administrations, people from Mexico and Canada could be deported directly back home. But people from all other countries, such as from Central America, had to be detained until they could be flown back to their country of origin.
Mexico has vowed to vigorously fight U.S. mass deportations of undocumented immigrants back to Mexico and refuse to accept any non-Mexicans expelled across the border.