RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Nearly a hundred days into his administration, President Trump has drastically reduced the flow of immigration, both legal and illegal, into the U.S. He's been able to accomplish that despite the fact that many of his signature ideas haven't come to fruition, from executive orders that have been put on hold by the courts to his proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. NPR's Joel Rose reports.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: The international arrivals terminal at Newark airport, 5 o'clock on a recent evening. Two refugees who fled the brutal dictatorship in Eritrea have just landed after a 14-hour flight.
They're going to say in Jersey City?
REBECCA LIBERATO: Yeah, we have a small Eritrean community there, so they'll be with them.
ROSE: Rebecca Liberato of Church World Service is here to welcome them. Courts have twice blocked President Trump's effort to suspend the U.S. refugee program. In the meantime, the administration has simply stopped accepting as many refugees. The numbers have dropped significantly, from nearly 10,000 a month last fall to just over 2,000 in March. And that worries Liberato.
LIBERATO: We still have families who are separated who we want to see rejoined. And they're scared for their loved ones across seas as well.
ROSE: In a matter of months, the Trump administration has made it harder to get into the U.S. for all kinds of people, from refugees and visa holders to asylum-seekers and illegal border crossers arriving at the southern border. The numbers have plummeted. And this may be just the beginning.
A leaked draft of a progress report shows that the Department of Homeland Security has begun laying the groundwork to do more. The agency has identified more detention beds for immigrants in the country illegally, set aside money to start designing the border wall and sped up hiring of thousands of federal immigration agents.
DONALD KERWIN: There is a effort now to deter, to terrify...
ROSE: Donald Kerwin directs the Center for Migration Studies, a think tank in New York devoted to protecting the rights of migrants. Kerwin says even Trump's own rhetoric is aimed at deterring immigrants.
KERWIN: What they're trying to do are very splashy and draconian enforcement efforts that are really meant to tell people nobody's safe and nobody should come that's not documented.
ROSE: That message may be getting through. Apprehensions at the southern border fell dramatically from more than 40,000 per month late last year to just over 12,000 in March. And the administration is going out of its way to highlight those numbers. Here's Attorney General Jeff Sessions in El Paso.
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JEFF SESSIONS: Last month was the lowest month for immigration illegally into our country in 17 years. That is a remarkable thing to accomplish.
ROSE: Away from the border, arrests by immigration agents were up by about a third during the first three months of the year compared with the same period in 2016. The data also shows that federal agents are arresting more unauthorized immigrants who don't have criminal records. A senior official with Immigration and Customs Enforcement tells NPR that the agency has been able to, quote, "open the aperture," unquote, on the types of immigrants it can target.
Reactions across the country reflect a divided America.
TOM JAWETZ: We're seeing mothers and fathers torn away from their families, many with no criminal histories at all or with just minor past convictions.
ROSE: That's Tom Jawetz at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank in Washington. Robin Hvidston sees it differently. She's the director of We The People Rising, an organization in California that advocates for tougher enforcement.
ROBIN HVIDSTON: I have not heard a presidential candidate in my lifetime address this topic. And I think he does want to take action against more criminal activity.
ROSE: Just this week, a court in San Francisco blocked another Trump executive order, this one punishing so-called sanctuary cities that limit cooperation with federal authorities. But that's not stopping the administration's agenda. In fact, it's signing up other cities to help enforce immigration law.
Joel Rose, NPR News.
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