Rise of illegal immigration was all in the forecast

Rise of illegal immigration was all in the forecast
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The last few weeks have seen dueling headlines on illegal immigration. On Dec. 5, Forbes posted an article entitled “U.S. Border Patrol Reports Illegal Border Crossings At Record Low.” In it, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported that “[i]n FY17, CBP recorded the lowest level of illegal cross-border migration on record, as measured by apprehensions along the border and inadmissible encounters at U.S. ports of entry.”

Victory, then? Can we relax, finally having defeated those pesky border jumpers?

Not so fast. Last week, the Washington Times  argued just the opposite:

The gains President TrumpDonald John TrumpClinton and Ocasio-Cortez joke about Kushner's alleged use of WhatsApp Missouri Gov. declares state of emergency amid severe flooding Swalwell on Hicks testimony: 'She's going to have to tell us who she lied for' in Trump admin MORE made early in his tenure have worn off. Nearly 40,000 illegal immigrants were nabbed attempting to sneak in at the border in November, which was up about 12 percent compared to October, and more than twice the monthly numbers from March and April, when Mr. Trump touted his early accomplishments.

Perhaps just as worrisome for officials is the rise in families traveling together, which surged 45 percent last month, and unaccompanied minors traveling without parents, which rose 26 percent in November.

What is going on? Are we being misled?

In fact, both news stories are factually correct. The Forbes article refers to fiscal year 2017, which ended in September. The annual data were heavily influenced by the few months immediately after President Trump took power, bringing the annual average down.

On the other hand, illegal immigration — as measured by apprehensions and inadmissibles — has been rising steadily since April. Just as the Washington Examiner notes, interdictions at the southwest border are now back at Obama era levels. Their data, however, refer to fiscal year 2018, while the Forbes data pertain to the earlier fiscal year. Both are true, but the Washington Times’ take is the one which rightly reflects the current state of affairs.

The numbers come as no surprise. The data are right in line with forecasts I made previously:

Expect a banner year for illegal immigration in 2018. With the ebbing of the Trump effect, crossings should return to typical norms, representing about 30,000 arrests per month. To that, add the crossers who deferred this year and will probably make an attempt next year, another 10,000 per month. These two factors alone would more than double the apprehension rates of 2017. 

As I note in my article, illegal immigration is likely to continue to rise. This is mostly good news, in the sense that illegal immigrants come for the work. As such, the rate of illegal immigration is a measure of the strength of the U.S. economy — and right now it’s quite strong. We expect the economy to be stronger still in 2018. Add to that the residual clean-up and reconstruction work from the fall’s hurricanes and the recent California fires, and illegal immigration will come in big in 2018. By the time the numbers settle, we may see the highest number of illegal crossings in a decade.

Expect the statistics to also record the greatest number of deaths in the desert in a long time. Enhanced enforcement coupled with a strong incentive to jump the border means that illegals will be taking ever bigger risks to get into the U.S., and they will increasingly die trying.

U.S. immigration policy remains dysfunctional, and next year we will see the worst of both worlds, both a surge in illegal immigration and a historically high percent of crossers dying in the attempt — perhaps the highest on record.

We can do better than that.

Steven Kopits is the president of Princeton Energy Advisors, a consultancy firm in Princeton, New Jersey.