By the Numbers: Border Crossings, Voluntary Departure, and DHS Staffing

children families border

Find this and other WOLA graphics at 


The latest Customs and Border Protection (CBP) statistics show continuing high numbers of immigrants crossing the southern border. In April, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) detained 109,144 migrants on the southwestern border, the highest monthly number since 2007. The composition of these migrants has changed dramatically in this fiscal  year, with nearly two-thirds being members of family units or unaccompanied minors. The Washington Post reports that unauthorized border crossings have more than doubled in the past year, on pace to exceed one million during FY 2019.

Adam Isaacson of WOLA (Washington Office on Latin America) analyzed the trend in a  series of tweets:

“Between the ports of entry, 64 percent of all apprehended migrants are now children and families. There is no historic precedent for this. …

“Also, yes, because of so many asylum-seeking children and parents, the total apprehensions number this year could be the largest since 2008….

“What’s happening now dwarfs the waves of child/family arrivals we saw in mid-2014 and late 2016….

“[In] most past years, May is a bit higher than April, then apprehensions decline during the hot summer months….

“At the ports of entry, “metering” is still in full effect. CBP officers posted at the borderline are keeping all but a trickle of asylum-seekers from presenting themselves. It’s been held to about 10,000 people without documents per month—half kids and families—since last June.

“In fact, family units allowed to present at the ports of entry _declined_ 17.9% from March to April. Imagine that—amid record numbers of families apprehended between the ports. It’s now very hard to seek asylum the “proper” way.”

Voluntary Departures

Voluntary departure, sometimes called “self deportation,” is soaring under the Trump administration, according to a new Marshall Project report. Alejandra Garcia Zamarrón is one of many immigrants who chose voluntary departure: “Alejandra Garcia Zamarrón, a mother of three American citizens, had lived in the United States for nearly 20 years when a police officer pulled over the unregistered vehicle she was riding in.

“Georgia was her home, the place where she’d lived for years and raised her family. But when she found herself locked in the Irwin County Detention Center, she had few options to stay. She’d been brought to the U.S. as a child, but her protected status as a childhood arrival had expired. And she had given a fake name and date of birth to the police officer who stopped her, a misdemeanor that put her at greater risk of deportation.

“Zamarrón, 32, initially vowed to fight her removal from the U.S. as long as she could. But as the months in detention dragged on, she changed her mind and asked for “voluntary departure…”

An immigrant in deportation proceedings might petition for permission to leave voluntarily for several reasons:

  • To avoid having a deportation on their record, which could make returning to the United States difficult or impossible;
  • To end a long and seemingly hopeless stay in immigration detention;
  • To leave the United States safely, choosing an airport near home, instead of being dumped at the border;
  • To have time to pack up or sell belongings, end a lease, sell a car, collect a final paycheck, etc.

For Zamarrón, voluntary departure meant that she could have more contact with her family. Even though she is now in Mexico, she can talk with them via video calls, which she could ot do from prison. She hopes to return to the United States, either through a U visa or through a petition by her son when he turns 21 in four more years.

“Zamarrón said many of the women she was detained with were also considering voluntary departure. “They’re tired of living in here, of dealing with ICE, dealing with guards, dealing with the injustice … They give up. They’d rather be deported than fight for their case,” she said. “We’re not criminals, we just don’t have options.”

DHS Staffing

For all the rhetorical and enforcement attention the administration gives to immigration and security issues, you might think they would have top-level teams guiding policy. Not really,  reports the Washington Post:

“Teenagers, known for their immaturity, need stable adult guidance. The Department of Homeland Security is no different.

“But like children shuffled among a succession of foster parents, the department, still in its teens, has been hampered by a chronic lack of steady leadership. Currently, numerous top positions— including secretary, deputy secretary and three of four undersecretary slots — have no confirmed appointees….

“Just 47 percent of key department slots are filled with confirmed appointees, according to the Political Appointee Tracker published by The Washington Post and the Partnership for Public Service.”

About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet,, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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