March 9 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly said there was a 40 percent decrease in illegal crossings from Mexico into the United States from January to February.
Citing data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Kelly said the "unprecedented decline in traffic" -- which is measured by the apprehension and the prevention of entry of people illegally entering the United States -- "shows a marked change in trends" since President Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election, particularly since he took office.
"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 wrote in a statement on Wednesday. "This change in the trend line is especially significant because CBP historically 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."
On Jan. 25, Trump signed an executive order to strip federal grant money from so-called "sanctuary cities" -- U.S. municipalities that protect undocumented immigrants from federal prosecution. Trump's order also seeks to hire 10,000 additional immigration officers, to build more detention centers and to prioritize undocumented immigrants for deportation.
Kelly also said that due to changes in U.S. policy, "coyotes" -- human smugglers hired to traffic people into the United States -- have also increased their fees by about 130 percent, from $3,500 to $8,000. The higher price means fewer immigrants will likely pay to cross illegally, Kelly suggested.
"The decrease is also encouraging news because it means many fewer people are putting themselves and their families at risk of exploitation, assault and injury by human traffickers and the physical dangers of the treacherous journey north," Kelly wrote.
Kelly this week said his agency is considering separating undocumented children from their parents if caught illegally crossing the border.
In the United States, immigration agents have increased efforts to deport some undocumented immigrants, such as Daniela Vargas, a 22-year-old undocumented "dreamer" who has lived in Mississippi since she was 7.