How Is Trump Policy Affecting The Latest Immigration Numbers?
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The number of individuals apprehended for illegally crossing the U.S. border with Mexico fell for the second month in a row. That's according to new government data released this week. The Trump administration says it is proof that their so-called zero-tolerance policy on immigration is working. This, of course, included the controversial practice of separating children from their parents. But the new figures show no change in the number of families who are detained at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Joining us to talk about the new immigration numbers is Doris Meissner. She served as commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service during the Clinton administration. Ms. Meissner, thanks for joining us.
DORIS MEISSNER: Thank you very much.
MARTIN: What do these new numbers tell you about what's happening at the border?
MEISSNER: Well, they pretty much tell us that things are in a steady state. The comparison here of July being down from June is certainly true, but July is down from June typically over recent years. So what the Trump administration is looking at, of course, is what has been an aberration, which was last year.
When the Trump administration first came in, in its early months, there was what's been referred to as a Trump effect - a real reduction. But if you look at the last several years and then this year, what's happening this year is returning to that norm over the last three or four years. And July comes down from June just at about the same percentage levels.
MARTIN: Why does that happen on an annual basis? Why is the difference between July and June - why does it always drop?
MEISSNER: Well, it tends to be weather patterns. It's very, very hot at this time of year, and it's very risky to cross the border. And so there tends to be a dip in the summertime.
MARTIN: The government acknowledges that there has been no change in the number of families being detained at the border, which is surprising considering that there has been this public effort to separate children from their families as a deterrent in order to convince families not to make this treacherous journey. Does that mean that this message just isn't making it to these families - that they just don't care, they're willing to risk it anyway?
MEISSNER: Well, I think it means a number of things. I mean, most importantly, it means that the reasons that people are leaving continue to be very strong reasons. The danger and the violence and the safety for families that families are seeking are still primary push factor.
It also means that these very harsh policies that were put into place were so harsh and so excessive that they lasted only for weeks before they had to change. And so the effort that the administration is making to message a change actually isn't a real change. It was very short-lived.
I think the, you know, deeper message here, of course, is that the reasons people are leaving are - continue to be in place. And when they do get here, they are not, by all means, applying for asylum. But those who are applying for asylum do continue to be permitted to pursue that claim. And deciding those claims takes years.
So the effort to get here and taking the chance of filing a claim does mean that people will be safe for some considerable period of time. If you were really trying to deal with these issues in a serious way beyond the high-visibility rhetoric and excessive measures that the administration has tried to take, which can't be sustained, you would be making investments in those systems that make the decisions so the decisions are made in a more timely fashion.
MARTIN: Let me ask you about another facet of immigration. Yes, we hear about what's happening at the U.S. border in terms of illegal crossings, but it's actually at airports where there's an even bigger problem, right? This is the issue of visa overstays - the number of people coming into the U.S. illegally by coming in with a visa and then just disappearing and overstaying that visa. This number is far higher than the number of people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally. Do you believe the administration is doing enough on that front - visa overstays?
MEISSNER: Well, this, of course, is such a difficult issue because so much of the illegal population in the United States is a visa overstay. But when you look at those visa overstay numbers, even though they are very large numbers, they are very small percentages of the numbers of people that have actually traveled to the United States. And though there is a pretty large number that don't leave exactly when their visa has expired...
MEISSNER: ...They do, in large share, leave within a few months after that. So the overstay population is probably in the realm of about 1 percent of the hundreds of thousands of people that travel...
MEISSNER: ...To the United States with visas. But it's true that the visa overstay issue never gets the kind of attention that the southwest border gets. And it is a very significant aspect of our issues of resident illegal population in the United States.
MARTIN: OK. Ms. Meissner, we're going to have to leave it there. Doris Meissner, former director of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.