AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The Department of Homeland Security has released new figures that show a marked decline in the number of people trying to cross the border illegally from Mexico. From January through February, federal officials say apprehensions of unauthorized immigrants dropped 40 percent. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly says that dramatic drop happened after Donald Trump took office.
NPR's Wade Goodwyn joins us from Texas to discuss the new report. And Wade, first of all, what are you hearing about the explanation behind this drop in apprehensions or, like, what's causing it?
WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Well, the view is that this is a result of President Trump's tough talk on illegal immigration and his executive orders beefing up border security and building a wall. And that's led to a perception in this country and abroad that life for unauthorized immigrants in America could get a lot more unpleasant going forward. And the sources I've talked to explained that perception can be a big factor in driving illegal immigration numbers.
You know, there hasn't been a massive deportation and enforcement effort from the Trump administration yet. There have been a series of well-publicized raids around the country, though, and I don't think that it takes a huge leap of faith to surmise that's what's driving this dramatic decline.
Here are the numbers - about 31,500 apprehensions in the month of January. The next month, it's just 18,700. One note of caution - it's only been a month and a half since the president took office, and this is a short timeframe to try to draw long-term conclusions from, probably too short.
CORNISH: Right, so could this be temporary?
GOODWYN: It could. There are other powerful influences on attempted border crossings that have nothing to do with U.S. policy or enforcement. In 2014, the first spike in attempted crossings from people from Central America involved unaccompanied men. The living situation in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala had become so compromised that thousands of people who would not have considered the long, dangerous journey to the U.S. decided that was better than staying in their countries. And then six months, a year later, U.S. Border Patrol saw this spike in women and children from those countries likely because their husbands, brothers, fathers had sent the money they needed for them to try to make the trip.
The point here is that this happened in spite of the increase in both manpower, boots on the ground and deportations that was going on at exactly that same time under Obama. And then when the Mexican economy began to pick up last year, that helped stem the tide from coming from Mexico. I think the moral is, it's sometimes about what's happening on this side of the border but not always.
CORNISH: At the same time, people here figure, like, 40 percent. And I'm sure they're wondering, could this be different?
GOODWYN: That's a good question. I mean this - it could be different. This is a big decline. And if it continues, we may start to see its effect on the construction and agricultural industries in this country. For example, here in Texas, housing construction is booming, and contractors are having trouble expanding as fast as they'd like. It's no secret here anyway that a significant number of these men framing these homes and picking fruits and vegetables are unauthorized immigrants. If employers lose access to cheap labor, Americans are going to pay more for the products they produce. It's straightforward economics.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Wade Goodwyn in Texas. Wade, thanks so much.
GOODWYN: It's my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.