An Election’s Effect on Illegal Immigration in Texas

by Jonathan Walsh

In the 2016 election, immigration policy rose to become one of the most-contentious issues. Because Texas largely contributes to the Southwest border, Texans communicated their prioritization of solving problems of border security and immigration facing the state in a February 2018 Texas Politics Project poll, where participants voted the two issues as the most important. Migrants were seeking to cross the United States border without official authorization, typically to remain in the United States to enjoy its economic benefits and job prosperity, and policy-makers struggled to find solutions. The topic of dealing with illegal immigrants polarized America, and especially rose to prominence under President Barack Obama with legislative action such as the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Americans looked between the two 2016 presidential candidates, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, to propose additional solutions to the problem, and it quickly became clear that, of the two, Donald Trump held a much harder stance on the prevention of illegal immigration and on the increasing of border security.

Although Trump would directly target illegal immigration and border security after his election, did Trump inadvertently cause any significant illegal immigration trends during the election cycle? Did a fear of a looming Trump presidency catalyze a mad rush to enter the country before Trump could impose his immigration policy? Essentially, did illegal immigration rates react to Trump’s presence in America’s political arena in any significant way?

It is impossible to know of every instance of illegal immigration, so to examine the question, the next-best measurement is illegal immigrant apprehension rates recorded by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The CBP records the number of illegal alien apprehensions by year, by month, by region, and by sector, and an analysis of this data could answer the question of whether or not Trump’s participation in the election cycle affected illegal immigration rates, specifically in Texas. There are three primary events that this analysis should center around: the initial campaign, winning the party nomination, and winning the Presidential election. For comparison, Obama’s election cycle is also examined due to his different stance on immigration policy.

For the initial campaign, we look at the time period after the announcement of candidacy, but before the party nomination. Donald Trump announced his candidacy on June 16, 2015 and won the Republican nomination on July 19, 2016 when his son Donald Trump Jr. cast the votes necessary to put Trump over the 1,237 delegate requirement for the nomination. Obama announced his candidacy on February 10, 2007 and clinched the Democratic nomination on June 3, 2008 when he surpassed the 2,118 delegate requirement for the nomination.

Looking at Table 1 and Table 3 between these dates for both candidates, there does not appear to be any significant change in apprehension rates for Texas. None of the sectors individually stand out as following a pattern, and there are no severe spikes up or down in the aggregated sums across Texas.

Table 1

More interesting trends appear when examining apprehension rates after both Trump and Obama acquire their party’s presidential nomination. For Trump, after his nomination on July 19, 2016, rates immediately

Table 2
Table 3

rise to the highest points of any other month before. Looking at Table 1 and Table 2, in the month of August, the CBP apprehends 31,317 illegal immigrants at the Texas border — a number significantly higher than any month before aside from May, which had 32,372 apprehensions. From there, the numbers continue to spike until the point of Trump’s inauguration on January 20, 2017. September breaks the apprehension record in FY 2016 with 33,583, October has 38,143, November has 39,265, and December has 37,089. For perspective, starting from September these rates per month are 46.5%, 48.2%, 51.4%, and 26.8% increases compared to the same month a year prior. So, not only are the number of apprehensions in every month after Trump’s nomination greatly surpassing almost every single preceding month, they are especially higher in comparison to that same month the year before when Trump was not in the political spotlight. Would-be illegal immigrants appear have reacted to Trump’s increased chances of winning the presidency through his nomination win by surging into the country.

Table 3
Table 4

With Obama, the illegal alien apprehension rates demonstrate an opposite effect. After Obama acquired the Democratic presidential nomination, Table 3 and Table 4 show that Texan apprehensions drop from 34,749 in July, to 34,102 in August, to 29,047 in September, to 28,515 in October, to 23,023 in November, and to 19,127 in December. For perspective, these rates starting in September decrease by 13.2%, 11.1%, 14.8%, and 12.2% compared to that respective month’s year-prior counterpart. The data shows that apprehension numbers are continuously decreasing and are lower in comparison to rates recorded a year before. There is a consistent downwards trend after Obama’s nomination win, which stands in direct contrast to Trump’s record-breaking growth in illegal immigration after his own nomination.

After the January 20th inauguration date for both presidents, there are additional sources of influence on illegal immigration rates to consider, namely legislation. Obama did not enact any major piece of immigrant policy in the first months of his presidency, either legislation or executive order, and this is reflected in a similar bell curve between January and June in both FY 2008 and FY 2009 in apprehension rates. However, in Trump’s case there is a remarkable difference. Immediately after January 20, when Trump was sworn-in, Trump releases multiple executive orders on January 25th targeting illegal immigration and enhancing interior enforcement of immigration laws. Despite the rise in illegal immigration after Trump’s nomination win, these orders appear to effect illegal immigration apprehension rates, as they drop roughly 64.1% from January to March according to Table 2. Such drastic change reflects Trump’s commitment to enacting the policy he had promised during his campaign.

Table 2

Admittedly, the analyzed data does not span more than a couple of years, and such a limitation could allow for an interpretation that the observed trends are simply seasonal changes in illegal immigration confined to a single year, or a random fluctuation. A better analysis would include more non-election years to compare to election years in order to spot any trends that appear naturally compared to trends that are in response to the stimuli of the presidential candidates. However, with the data presented across two election cycles, it appears that both Trump’s nomination as the Republican candidate, and his swearing-in of office had an impact on illegal immigration apprehension rates in Texas, especially when compared to an opposite effect observed during Obama’s election cycle.