The July border numbers were released on Wednesday and, once again, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) saw it as an opportunity to dissemble to the American people in the service of the Trump administration’s immigration policies. The numbers show that in July there were 31,303 total apprehensions. This is a combination of 3,938 unaccompanied children, 9,258 persons arriving as part of a family unit, and 18,107 others. In a press release, DHS characterized this data by saying: “Southwest Border Migration numbers dropped in July for the second month in a row. This decrease shows that when there are real consequences for breaking the law, the conduct of those considering crimes will change.” However, the month to month comparison is a red herring, and the facts don’t bear the weight of DHS’s preferred causative analysis.
To begin, the total apprehensions for July 2018 (31,303) are higher than the same month for five of the last eight years. This would indicate that whatever “consequences” Trump is imposing they are, on average, less effective than the way immigration has been handled in recent years. Moreover, as any Statistics 101 student is taught, correlation does not imply causation. The fact that apprehension numbers fell from June to July (and from May to June before that) is predictable regardless of policy, given that numbers in the summer months typically fall as the extreme heat makes the crossing more dangerous. Thus, the causality that DHS would like the public to infer―that the decrease is a result of the Trump policy choices―is unsupported by the data.
DHS conveniently doesn’t explain what “real consequences” they are referring to, but the numbers show that Trump’s cruel family separation policy had almost no deterrent effect on the relevant group affected—family units. Indeed, on the Customs and Border Protection website is an acknowledgement that “Family Units remained nearly flat with an overall less than 1 percent decline” from June to July. What is more, family unit apprehensions in July 2018 (9,258) were significantly higher than for any previous July going back to at least 2013. The next closest year was in 2016 at 7,569. To be clear, even if ripping families apart had resulted in a decrease in families entering the U.S. that would not justify such an appalling policy, but the evidence shows that it’s not even effective. Nor have Trump’s policies been meaningfully effective for deterring unaccompanied children, for while Customs and Border Protection refers to a “23 percent” decline from June in unaccompanied minors, they don’t mention that the number for July 2018 (3,938) is higher than July numbers for five of the last seven years.
DHS is a repeat offender when it comes to making misleading statements on border numbers in the service of the Trump administration’s policy preferences. It’s ironic—but alas, no longer surprising―that the administration of a president, who’s known for weaponizing the phrase “fake news” against critical news outlets, so consistently has a casual relationship to the facts when it comes to immigration.