In the 2016 presidential election cycle, illegal immigration was generally attributed to Mexican migrants and a border wall was prescribed to prevent them from entering the United States. While the rhetoric resonated with many voters, it belied the vastly more complex trends in illegal border crossings and what is needed to address them. Most undocumented migrants arriving at the US border today are not Mexican, and a border wall will not affect what happens when they arrive.
Last year, Border Patrol apprehended nearly 409,000 people attempting to illegally cross the southwest border, a dramatic increase from the 331,000 in 2015, though somewhat less than the high mark of 479,000 in 2014. Last year, according to Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Border Patrol apprehended 59,757 unaccompanied children and 77,857 family units, respectively a 13 percent decline and 12 percent increase from 2014. Border apprehensions are often an indicator of how many people are entering the United States undetected, but the numbers in 2016 do not tell the whole story.
According to the Pew Research Center, there was no statistically significant change in the illegal immigrant population in the United States between 2009 and 2014. But that does not mean illegal entries have stalled. From 2009 to 2014, 13 states saw a change in the size of their unauthorized immigrant populations. In states where illegal populations decreased, it was because illegal Mexican residents left. In states where illegal populations increased, it was due to a growth in the number of residents from countries other than Mexico, which in many cases are those in Central America’s “Northern Triangle” (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras). Last year, the number of apprehensions from Central America exceeded those from Mexico, the second time that trend has been seen, with the previous instance in 2014.
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