Entries into the United States by "inadmissible persons" were down 40 percent from January to February, the US government said Wednesday, hailing this as progress on President Donald Trump's southern border security focus.
"The drop in apprehensions shows a marked change in trends," said Homeland Security chief John Kelly. Trump took office January 20.
"Since the Administration’s implementation of Executive Orders to enforce immigration laws, apprehensions and inadmissible activity is trending toward the lowest monthly total in at least the last five years."
Kelly said this was key because Customs and Border Protection usually sees a 10-20 percent increase in apprehensions of illegal immigrants from January to February.
"Instead, this year we saw a drop from 31,578 to 18,762 persons - a 40 percent decline," he stressed, arguing that this meant fewer people were taking the huge risk of putting their fate in the hands of human traffickers.
"Early results show that enforcement matters, deterrence matters, and that comprehensive immigration enforcement can make an impact," said Kelly, one of Trumps' closest allies on tightening US-Mexican border security and the president's controversial pledge to build a wall there.
During his campaign, Trump, 70, appalled Mexicans and many Americans by calling Mexicans who crossed the border illegally into the US, drug dealers and criminals.
Hispanics or Latinos are the largest US minority; most US Hispanics are of Mexican descent or immigrants from Mexico.