Border apprehensions hit a 12-year high in March (Is it a crisis now?)

This isn’t unexpected. In fact, the Border Patrol predicted this would happen when they published the numbers for February, but now it’s no longer just speculation. The number of people apprehended or turned away at the border topped 100,000 last month, the highest total for the month of March in 12 years. From NBC News:

U.S. officials encountered more than 103,000 undocumented immigrants crossing the country’s southwest border in March, Homeland Security officials said Tuesday.

The number makes last month a record for March for border crossings since 2007, when more than 115,000 immigrants were stopped at the border.

CBP published this updated graph. The bright red line is FY2019. You can see how far above the past 5 years we are at this point. You can also see that in previous years the real peak didn’t happen until May so there’s some reason to think these numbers could continue going up.

CBS News reports a Border Patrol spokesman said the agency was at the breaking point:

“We’ve arrived at the breaking point,” Brian Hastings, chief of law enforcement operations for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), told reporters Tuesday. About 92,000 of the 103,000 migrants were apprehended between ports of entry, while nearly 11,000 migrants who appeared at ports of entry to claim asylum were deemed “inadmissible” and turned back, according to CBP statistics.

With an average of 3,000 apprehensions per day in March, Hastings said immigration authorities are struggling to confront an “unprecedented humanitarian and border security crisis” near the southwestern border.

The Border Patrol has been saying this for weeks. Maybe now even Democrats will believe them? Even Bernie Sanders seems to get the problem with open borders but, incredibly, he’s not the farthest left on this issue in the Democratic field. Beto O’Rourke has said he would be willing to take the existing border barrier down. Julian Castro has proposed decriminalizing illegal immigration. By next year, Sanders’ position could be seen as far right in the Democratic Party.

But the problem in dealing with this situation isn’t just on the other side of the aisle. Today Ross Douthat published a piece arguing that while the current crisis validates the concerns over border hawks, it doesn’t seem that Trump will be able to solve it since that would mean reaching some agreement with Congress and with Mexico:

Any policy solution would require two negotiations. First, negotiation with Congress, to change asylum law to override the court decisions currently tying up the Trump White House’s attempts at deterrence — like the attempt to make Central American asylum petitioners wait out the process in Mexico. Second, negotiation with the Mexican government, to get more help discouraging migration on its side of the border. For a different president these tasks would be challenging; for Trump, they seem impossible.

Hence the flailing on display this week, with the president purging his entire Homeland Security apparatus, in the hopes of finding somebody with the requisite toughness to succeed where the present staff has failed. Since “toughness” apparently means one of two things — returning to the cruelty of child separation or ordering Border Patrol agents to simply ignore asylum law themselves — it’s doubtful that this purge will produce anything except more unpopularity for Trump’s policies, and more unsuccessful collisions with the courts.

The flailing also absolves the Democratic Party, currently torn between radicalism and evasion on immigration, from actually having to propose a coherent alternative to the White House’s approach. If this sort of crisis were happening on President Hillary Clinton’s watch, it would create all kinds of political problems for the Democrats; as it stands, they can point at the man who once boasted of Washington that “I alone can fix it” and say, well, why don’t you?

That’s pretty harsh but he has a point about Democrats having zero motivation to address this problem. Sure they were wrong about the crisis but now that it’s here, they can sit back and play Trump-critic heading into 2020. With the collapse of the collusion narrative, they’re going to need something else to focus on.