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The reality on the border differs widely from Trump's 'crisis' description

Molly O'Toole, Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Kate Morrissey, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- On Tuesday in the Mexican border city of Matamoros, a group of 55 asylum seekers camped at the foot of bridges, waiting to cross into Brownsville, Texas. The group, including a deaf man and a half-dozen children, face an average wait of six weeks. Further west in Nogales, on the border with Arizona, about 150 asylum seekers waited to enter the United States.

In Juarez, across from El Paso, Texas, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials turned one Guatemalan father away six times over three days in October. The smuggler he'd paid to get him and his two young daughters to the United States gave him a choice: Continue waiting on the bridge to Texas, alone, or take a raft illegally across the Rio Grande with the children. With one of his daughters sick, he chose the river and surrendered to the Border Patrol to apply for asylum.

In San Diego, Central American families who traveled north as part of the most recent caravan have been ducking through known gaps in a fence at Tijuana. Border Patrol agents wait on the other side for them to turn themselves in and claim asylum.

In a nationally televised speech from the Oval Office, President Donald Trump addressed what administration officials repeatedly have called a "humanitarian and national security crisis" at the southern border.

Yet from Mexico City to the U.S.-Mexico border, to inundated U.S. immigration courts and interior checkpoints, current and former officials, as well as outside experts, say that to the extent the border faces such a crisis, it's largely of the administration's own making.

"It's a self-imposed crisis," said Stephanie Leutert, director of the Mexico Security Initiative at the University of Texas, Austin, who spoke to the Guatemalan father.

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Apprehensions at the border -- the most common measure of illegal immigration -- are near historic lows.

From the 1980s to the mid-2000s, apprehensions routinely reached more than 1 million migrants a year. In the fiscal year that ended in September, 521,090 people were apprehended or stopped at the border.

"There is absolutely not a border-security crisis right now," said Chris Wilson, deputy director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. "Apprehensions are way down from their peak."

Everard Meade, director of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego, said "the administration has tried to keep this impression that the border is overwhelmed, even though empirically it's not."

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