Secretary Kelly Reports Sharp Decline in Apprehensions at the Southwest Border in March 2017

Alexander J. Segal's picture


On April 5, 2017, the Secretary of Homeland Security, John F. Kelly, issued written testimony for a Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental affairs hearing titled “Improving Border Security and Public Safety” [link]. In the testimony, Secretary Kelly discusses the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS's) border security mission, President Donald Trump's immigration Executive Orders [see article on border/interior enforcement orders; and see article on travel order], President Trump's budget proposal [see blog], and interagency and international cooperation. In this post, I will focus exclusively on an interesting section of Secretary Kelly's testimony regarding promising signs related to immigration enforcement at the border.

“Early Indications of Success from the Implementation of the President's Executive Orders

In his written testimony, Secretary Kelly explains that the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has seen a sharp decline in apprehensions along the Southwest Border since the beginning of the year. This is significant because the number of apprehensions at the border is generally seen as an indicator of how many aliens are seeking to cross the border illegally.

Secretary Kelly stated that March saw than 17,000 apprehensions at the border. That was the lowest total of 2017, and notably marked the fifth consecutive month of declines in arrests at the border. Specifically, Secretary Kelly estimated that the number of apprehensions in March would be approximately 71% lower than the December 2016 total. The decrease in apprehensions is notable because — as Secretary Kelly explained — the DHS typically sees an increase in the number of apprehensions early in the year.

Secretary Kelly attributed the decrease in apprehensions in part to the new policies being pursued by the Trump Administration.


On April 5, 2017, the White House Press Secretary released a statement echoing Secretary Kelly's testimony [link]. In March of 2017, only 16,600 individuals were apprehended or deemed inadmissible at the Southwest Border. This represented a 35% drop from the already low numbers in February of 2017, and a stunning 64% drop from March of 2016. The San Diego Tribune notes that the number of apprehensions (not counting those deemed inadmissible) is estimated to be fewer than 12,500 [link].1 This not only represented a low number for March, but was in fact the lowest number of apprehensions in any month in the last 17 years.

To be sure, many factors go into how many apprehensions occur at the border. However, the dwindling number of apprehensions at the border in the first two full months of the Trump Administration must be taken as a promising sign. It will be important to follow the numbers as the DHS begins hiring new agents and fully implementing the directives in President Trump's Executive Orders on border security and interior enforcement.


  1. Morrissey, Kate. “March border apprehensions reported to hit 17-year low.” (Apr. 4, 2017)
Secretary Kelly Reports Sharp Decline in Apprehensions at the Southwest Border in March 2017