One common liberal response to Donald Trump’s hard-line immigration stance is that the President-elect has been speaking to a problem that no longer exists—that mass border crossings from Latin America are a thing of the past. And there is some truth to this: The heyday of illegal Mexican immigration came in the 1990s and early 2000s; since the Great Recession, illegal immigration has declined precipitously without a major border security push.
But immigration trends can change dramatically as economic and political conditions fluctuate in the United States and Latin America. In the last few years, as U.S. hiring has accelerated, illegal immigration has picked up as well, including from Central American countries whose economic prospects remain dismal. Most of these immigrants enter Mexico from the south before attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. And according to the Pew Research Center, U.S. border apprehensions increased dramatically in recent months:
The number of migrant apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border rose by 42% in October and November of 2016 compared with the same two-month period in 2015, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Customs and Border Protection data. The 93,405 apprehensions were the most in any October-November period in at least five years. […]
Also in fiscal 2016, apprehensions of Central Americans exceeded that of Mexicans for just the second time. This first occurred in 2014, when there was a record surge in apprehensions of unaccompanied children and families, mostly from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Apprehensions dropped in 2015 due in part to increased immigration enforcement by the Mexican government at its southern border and internally, which made it more difficult for Central Americans to travel through Mexico to reach the U.S.
The new data, which cut against the prevailing narrative that illegal immigration is decreasing, underscore the fact that the border question won’t simply be taken off the table of its own accord by demographic and economic trends. The demand for passage from poor countries to rich countries will be a fact of life for the foreseeable future, one with dramatic implications for economic growth and political stability. Governments need to find ways to regulate this process in a sustainable way.