US arrests of illegal immigrants soared in the first year of president Donald Trump's administration while border crossings have plummeted, the Department of Homeland Security announced Tuesday.
Announcing the success of one of Trump's key campaign promises to slow the flow of people sneaking into the country from Central America, DHS said there was still a need to build a wall on the border with Mexico even if crossings had fallen to a record low.
"We have clearly seen the successful results of the president's commitment to supporting the frontline officers and agents of DHS as they enforce the law and secure our borders," said acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke.
"We have an obligation to uphold the integrity of our immigration system, but we must do more to step up and close loopholes to protect the American worker, our economy, and our communities."
- Surge in arrests -
In the fiscal year to September 30, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), one of two key DHS immigration enforcement agencies, arrested 143,470 people it said were in the country illegally, 30 percent more than the previous year.
Counting just from January when Trump became president, ICE said, arrests surged by 40 percent.
The focus has been on criminal aliens, it said, though immigration rights groups have accused them of rounding up longtime residents with families and jobs on minor infractions and sending them for deportation, and of rounding up immigrants in places where they should be safe.
ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan rejected those accusations.
"We are often accused of indiscriminate raids or sweeps, arresting people at churches and hospitals," he said.
"We conduct target enforcement operations, we know exactly who we are going to arrest and where," he said.
He criticized the numerous cities that have declared themselves "sanctuaries" to protect from arrest longstanding residents without immigration documents, an issue which has become a major challenge for the Trump administration.
Homan said those cities make it harder for ICE to arrest hardened criminals.
"We need to hold sanctuary jurisdictions accountable for putting innocent lives at risk by shielding criminal illegals from law enforcement," he said.
Data from ICE, though, suggested that processes to deport arrested illegal immigrants have become even more backed up than before, despite Trump's orders to increase the number of courts and judges handling such cases.
Despite the surge in arrests, ICE said removals fell about six percent in the fiscal year to 226,119.
-Border wall still planned -
Customs and Border Protection, the other key agency, which patrols the border, said it had apprehended 310,531 people trying to sneak in, nearly all along the southern border.
That apprehensions figure, which is seen as an indicator of how many people overall are getting into the United States illegally, fell from the previous year to the lowest level on record, the CBP said.
That suggests significant success in cracking down on border crossers, they said.
However, CPB said there had been a slight month-to-month pickup in the amount of people it has caught since May, underscoring the need to boost surveillance and detection. Under Trump, CBP staff numbers have risen by 1,477, or 14 percent.
CBP Acting Deputy Commissioner Ronald Vitiello said that the agency was now studying prototypes for the wall Trump has ordered for the nearly 2,000-mile (3,200 kilometer) border with Mexico.
"The wall is part of a larger enforcement security system," he said, which will also include movement sensors, lighting, radar, and fixed and mobile towers.
CBP is also evaluating the use of drone aircraft to keep hard-to-access parts of the border under watch.