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Despite Trump’s Family Separation Threat, Border Arrests for Illegal Immigration Continue to Rise

2 minute read

More than 50,000 people were arrested crossing the U.S. southern border during the month of May, the Department of Homeland Security announced Wednesday, despite the Trump Administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration and threat to separate families at the border.

May marks the third month in a row with more than 50,000 border arrests — a number used by the Trump Administration to measure the rate of illegal border crossings.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in early May that officials would separate parents and children who are caught illegally crossing the border and prosecute the parents as part of a “zero tolerance” immigration policy. The Trump Administration argued that separating families at the border would serve as a “tough deterrent” to people looking to enter the country illegally.

“It could be a tough deterrent — would be a tough deterrent. A much faster turnaround on asylum seekers,” White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said of family separation in an NPR interview last month.

The more than 50,000 border arrests represents a 160% increase compared to May 2017. The number of border arrests fell to historic lows last year — which the Trump Administration touted as an example of improved border security.

“[The arrests] show that while the Trump administration is restoring the rule of law, it will take a sustained effort and continuous commitment of resources over many months to disrupt cartels, smugglers, and nefarious actors,” Department of Homeland Security Press Secretary Tyler Houlton said in a statement Wednesday. “We are taking action and will be referring and then prosecuting 100 percent of illegal border crossers, we are building the first new border wall in a decade, and we have deployed the National Guard to the border. No one expects to reverse years of political inaction overnight or in a month.”

While the number of arrests in June may provide a better indication of how the family separation policy is affecting border crossings, May’s numbers indicate that many migrants have not been deterred. The number of family units trying to cross the border increased by 435% in May 2018, compared to May 2017.

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Write to Katie Reilly at Katie.Reilly@time.com