WASHINGTON -- The Trump administration is pointing to a recent uptick in illegal border crossings as evidence that it needs more authority -- even as it continues to tout a longer-term decrease as proof of the effectiveness of its policies.
Illegal entries to the US have risen substantially over the past few months.
In a rare statement on its monthly report of apprehensions and rejections at the border, the Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday both praised the numbers and said work remained.
"The final border apprehension numbers of 2017, specifically at the southern border, undeniably prove the effectiveness of President Trump's commitment to securing our borders," said DHS spokesman Tyler Houlton, noting the numbers over the last year were 40% below the final year of President Barack Obama's tenure.
But, Houlton said, the recent increase spelled trouble.
"The significant increase over the last month in the number of family units and unaccompanied children coming across the border illegally highlights the dire need for Congress to immediately adopt responsible pro-American immigration reforms. ... The Secretary will require fixes to these loopholes as part of any immigration package negotiated (in a meeting Tuesday) at the White House."
After a sharp drop in the number of undocumented immigrants attempting to cross the border at the beginning of the Trump administration, the President and his administration frequently cited the low numbers as evidence that Trump's immigration policy works.
But starting in the summer, crossings began to again approach historic levels. With 40,513 apprehensions and rejections at the southern border in December, the total numbers are behind fiscal years 2016 and 2017, but surpass crossings in fiscal years 2013, 2014 and 2015.
The administration has employed aggressive rhetoric and spoken consistently about securing the border and cracking down on undocumented immigrants in the US. Arrests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement are up -- but little has operationally changed at the border and deportations last year lagged behind the last year of Obama's presidency.
Trump is pushing for aggressive policies as part of a deal to protect the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, as conservatives argue that allowing undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship will only add incentives for potential illegal crossings in the future.