Border apprehensions of illegal immigrants are substantially down in the first few months of the Trump administration. In fact, the border apprehension figure for the month of March is only 16,600, the lowest monthly figure since 2000. Apprehensions are an important proxy metric for the inflow of illegal immigrants. Many are giving credit to the Trump administration for this rapid and seemingly historical collapse in illegal immigration.
There was another historical decline in border apprehensions that was even quicker, more dramatic, and far cheaper than the decline in border apprehensions that began in 2006 and has trended downward to the Trump administration. It occurred in the 1950s when the government streamlined the Bracero guest worker visa program and allowed more legal migration. These two periods of time lasted about the same number of years and provide an easy comparison between two means of diminishing illegal immigration: by making it legal or doubling down on enforcement.
The border patrol apprehended virtually the same number of illegal immigrants in 1954, when the deregulated Bracero program began operation, as in the year 2006. The deregulated Bracero program lasted from 1954 to about 1965 and the 2006 decline has lasted until today. Apprehensions fell after both of those but they fell further and much more rapidly in the 1950s (Figure 1). Apprehensions declined by 93 percent from 1954 to 1956 but only by 34 percent from 2006 to 2008. Figure 2 shows the same numbers indexed to 1 in the first year. Clearly, the Bracero Era witnessed a much more rapid and complete decline in illegal immigrant entries than the crackdown from 2006 to today.
Border Patrol Apprehensions
Sources: USCIS, CBP, and INS.