Arrests drop at US-Mexico border in June - but cause unclear
FILE PHOTO: Members of a caravan of migrants from Central America, enter the United States border and customs facility, where they are expected to apply for asylum, in Tijuana, Mexico May 4, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido/File Photo

The number of people arrested at the U.S.-Mexico border fell 18 percent in June from May, following the implementation of President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, the Department of Homeland Security said on Thursday.

But it noted that the decline in border apprehensions, to 34,114 individuals in June from 40,338 in May, “follows the overall downward trend for this time of year,” making it unclear how much the controversial policy helped reduce the numbers.

Trump’s zero tolerance policy, implemented in May, calls on federal agencies to work together to prosecute all immigrants apprehended entering the United States illegally.

Under the policy, parents are held in federal detention pending prosecution, while their children are sent to shelters or foster homes, often far from their parents and with no clear way to contact them.

The drop in border apprehensions in June could be a response to the policy or a result of normal month-to-month fluctuations. The reduction in numbers is far less dramatic than in the months following Trump’s taking office in January 2017.

Trump administration officials have said the zero tolerance policy is needed to secure the border and deter illegal immigration. It has resulted in more than 2,000 children being separated from their parents, and Trump has faced enormous political pressure to reverse course.

On June 20, he partly walked the policy back, issuing an executive order calling for families to be detained together. A federal judge in San Diego ordered the government last week to rapidly reunite separated families.

Border apprehensions plummeted during the first few months of Trump’s presidency, to a low of 11,126 in April 2017, but have since crept back up to levels comparable with those during the Obama administration. The May 2018 figure is the highest number since Trump took office.

Randy Capps, director of research for U.S. programs at the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan group, said last week that 34,000 arrests at the southern border in June would be almost the same number of arrests as in June 2016, and twice as high as June 2017.

“There is no evidence yet that zero tolerance has substantially affected either the level of apprehensions this month or the seasonal pattern of slight declines from May to June,” Capps wrote in an email.

The government is moving some migrant parents to detention sites closer to the young children they were separated from when crossing the border to meet a court-imposed deadline to reunify families, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said on Thursday.

Reporting by Eric Walsh; additional reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; editing by Jonathan Oatis