RELEASE: There Is No Evidence That Family Separation or Family Detention Policies Act as Deterrents, According to New Statistical CAP Study

Washington, D.C. — Neither family detention nor family separation policies have deterred families from coming to the United States in the past, according to a new statistical analysis of data on southwest border apprehensions over time. And to this date, the Trump administration’s family separation policy has not had its intended effect.

“The Obama administration used family detention in response to an increase in Central American families and unaccompanied children arriving at the southwest border. And the Trump administration has turned to family separation and the detention of families,” said Tom K. Wong, senior fellow for Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress and associate professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego. “Both policies, however, as illustrated in this statistical analysis, have not deterred families from coming to the United States.”

The study looks at 81 months of data from October 2011 to June 2018 to analyze the relationship between family detention and family separation policies and the monthly number of U.S. Border Patrol apprehensions of families at the southwest border.

The study finds that there was no immediate or long-term decrease in apprehensions of families at the southwest border after the expanded use of family detention in July 2014. A series of models that checked the robustness of the findings also produced qualitatively similar results: The expanded use of family detention is not statistically significantly related to decreases in the monthly number of U.S. Border Patrol apprehensions of families at the southwest border.

Similarly, the monthly number of U.S. Border Patrol apprehensions of families at the southwest border has not decreased as a result of family separation. In fact, the monthly number of apprehensions has increased after the administration’s zero-tolerance pilot in July 2017.

Even after taking seasonal trends into account, neither the expanded use of family detention nor the use of family separation is statistically significantly related to decreases in the monthly number of family apprehensions. In other words, the data clearly show that these policies do not act as deterrents to families attempting to enter the United States.

To see the methodology, please refer to the Appendix.

Click here to read the issue brief: “Do Family Separation and Detention Deter Immigration?” by Tom K. Wong.

For more information or to speak with an expert, please contact Rafael J. Medina at rjmedina@americanprogress.org or 202.478.5313