No Evidence Family Separation Policies Deter Illegal Immigration, Study Finds

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A demonstrator holds up a protest sign during a rally against the Trump administration's immigration policies outside the Texas Capitol in Austin, Texas, on June 30. A new study shows the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" family- separation policy has not worked to deter families from attempting to enter the U.S. Tamir Kalifa/Getty

Neither family separation nor family detention have worked as effective "deterrents" to illegal immigration to the United States, according to a new study analyzing data on southwest border apprehensions over time.

In May, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said the "big name of the game" of separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border was "deterrence."

"It could be a tough deterrent—would be a tough deterrent," Kelly said in an interview with NPR.

But after poring over 81 months of data from October 2011 to June 2018, the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, has has found that neither family separation nor family detention have been effective methods for discouraging immigrants from trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border outside the designated crossing points.

"The Obama administration used family detention in response to an increase in Central American families and unaccompanied children arriving at the southwest border. And the Trump administration has turned to family separation and to the detention of families," Tom K. Wong, a senior fellow for immigration policy at CAP, said in a statement shared online.

"Both policies, however, as illustrated in this statistical analysis, have not deterred families from coming to the United States," Wong said.

In its analysis, CAP found that there was "no immediate or long-term decrease in apprehensions of families at the southwest border after the expanded use of family detention in July 2014."

CAP said that the "expanded use of family detention" is "not statistically significantly related to decreases in the monthly number of U.S. Border Patrol apprehensions of families at the southwest border.

"Similarly, the monthly number of U.S. Border Patrol apprehensions of families at the southwest border has not decreased as a result of family separation," researchers said.

"In fact, the monthly number of apprehensions has increased after the administration's zero tolerance pilot in July 2017."

CAP STATS 1
Center for American Progress

The above chart illustrates how the monthly number of apprehensions had been increasing before the expanded use of family detention in July 2014 and continued to increase even after the policy was instituted.

The chart also illustrates how apprehensions continued to increase after the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" family-separation policy was first introduced in July 2017, according to CAP.

The Trump administration rescinded the widely condemned policy on June 20 after facing backlash from across the country.

In recent weeks, it has been racing to meet its Thursday court-ordered deadline to reunite the approximately 2,500 children it separated from their parents with their loved ones.

The government has already admitted, however, that more than 400 parents separated from their children have possibly already been deported without their young ones.

Meanwhile, 917 other parents have been deemed potentially ineligible for reunification because they've either waived their rights to reunification or have a criminal record rendering them unsuitable for reunification.

According to CAP, the impact of the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" family-separation policy has been for naught, as "even after taking seasonal trends into account" neither family separation nor family detention have been proved to lead to statistically significant decrease in the monthly number of family apprehensions at the border.

cap stats 2
Center for American Progress

"In other words, the data clearly shows that these policies do not act as deterrents to families attempting to enter the United States," CAP said.

For example, CAP said in its study, in 2014, the monthly number of U.S. Border Patrol apprehensions of families at the border increased beginning in late winter and continued to increase through spring before starting to decline in July.

Figures in the years that have followed since then appear to show a similar trend, with data from 2017 also suggesting that a second peak in the number of family units apprehended may have emerged in the months of October, November and December 2017.

The organization said it was "too soon to tell" if that seasonal trend "will hold," however, because 2017 "was the first year in the time series that saw large numbers of apprehensions of families during these months."

No Evidence Family Separation Policies Deter Illegal Immigration, Study Finds | U.S.
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