Donald Trump’s Plan to Reduce Illegal Immigration Isn’t Going Very Well

How are things going down on the Southwest border? Not so good according to the Border Patrol: “During the month of March CBP saw a 37 percent increase overall when compared to February, but a 203 percent increase compared to March 2017.”

Yikes! An increase in apprehensions usually means that more people are trying to cross the border, so this represents a big jump in illegal immigration. But how are things really going? Illegal immigration is seasonal, so let’s take a look at border apprehensions just in winter so we’re comparing apples to apples:

Even if you use the average for all of winter, apprehensions are up 50 percent compared to last year. However, seasonality isn’t what it used to be. Over the past few years illegal border crossings have been only mildly seasonal, so it might be more helpful to zoom in on all monthly totals for the past few years:

A moderate drop in January followed by a rebound in February isn’t unusual, but in 2017 we got an enormous drop from January all the way through April, bringing border apprehension levels to historic lows. This is something I thought might happen: there are a few areas where pure bluster can accomplish something, and this is one of them. After Trump was elected, it’s quite possible that his loud talk, followed up by some showy raids after he took office, scared a lot of potential border crossers away:

This is a case where fear works. But will it work for long? The problem with amping up the bluster is that eventually it becomes the new normal and no longer has much effect. By that time, you really need to have an effective policy in place, and it’s not yet clear if Trump has the attention span or political skills to make that happen. We’ll see.

To give him his due, I’d say that Trump’s attention span has been fine on this issue. He keeps hammering away at it. But he hasn’t been very effective at putting together actual policies to keep illegal immigration levels low, even though Democrats have offered him some pretty good deals. But that’s our negotiator-in-chief for you. He’s spent 30 years screwing up every deal he got his hands on, and now he has an even bigger canvas to screw up on.