Illegal border crossings drop for 7th month in row and 100th mile of wall completed- What's Your Point?

Host Greg Groogan leads  this week’s panel: Bob Price, Associate Editor of Breitbart Texas; Carmen Roe, Houston attorney; Bill King, former mayoral candidate, businessman and columnist, Charles Blain, Urban Reform;  Tomaro Bell, super neighborhood leader; and Antonio Diaz-, writer, educator and radio host in a discussion about the border wall.

   SAN DIEGO (AP) -- The number of people arrested or stopped entering the United States on the Mexico border fell for a seventh straight month in December, with Mexicans outpacing Central Americans among the detainees, authorities said Thursday.

   The tally helps explain why the U.S. has turned more attention to Mexican asylum-seekers as President Donald Trump seeks to highlight his dramatic reshaping of immigration policy in his campaign for a second term.

   The Department of Homeland Security plans to send Mexicans to Guatemala with an opportunity to seek protection there, a highly unusual move among developing nations trying to curb asylum claims. Monday's announcement drew criticism from the Mexican government, which has so far worked closely with the U.S. to address an unprecedented surge of asylum-seekers, many of them Central American families.

   The Trump administration has begun other enforcement measures affecting Mexicans, including a test in El Paso, Texas, to quickly determine asylum claims and flights to deport them to Guadalajara to discourage repeat attempts.

   U.S. authorities made 40,620 arrests of people who crossed illegally or who presented themselves at official crossings in December, down 5% from 42,651 in November and down 72% from a 13-year high of 144,116 in May.

   Mexicans accounted for half of arrests and people stopped at official crossings, more than three times more than any other nationality and a major shift from much of last year, when Guatemala and Honduras were the primary countries of origin.

   The U.S. has used a carrot-and-stick approach in bilateral agreements struck since July with Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to deny people an opportunity to apply for asylum in the U.S. They are instead to be sent to Central America with an opportunity to ask for protection there.

   However, only Guatemala has begun accepting U.S.-funded flights of asylum-seekers from other countries. As of Wednesday, the U.S. had sent 94 asylum-seekers to Guatemala, only six of whom chose to seek asylum there. The rest returned to their countries.

   Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, who leaves office next week, said Wednesday that his government has not agreed to take Mexican asylum-seekers -- only those from El Salvador and Honduras. He said a decision rests with his successor, Alejandro Giammattei.

   Chad Wolf, acting U.S. Homeland Security secretary, did not address plans or take questions during a news conference Thursday in Honduras after meeting President Juan Orlando Hernandez.

   "As you continue to do more to secure your borders, dismantle gangs and cartels and implement our asylum agreement, the United States government will continue to invest in and support the economic growth in Honduras," Wolf said.

   David FitzGerald, a sociology professor at University of California, San Diego, and author of "Refugee Beyond Reach: How Rich Democracies Repel Asylum Seekers," said he knew only one other instance of a government sending asylum-seekers to a country they didn't travel through. In 2001, Australia began sending asylum-seekers to the island nations of Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

   Mexican asylum-seekers interviewed Wednesday while waiting in Tijuana, Mexico, for their names to be called to claim asylum at a San Diego border crossing said being sent to Guatemala was out of the question.

   "I prefer to die in my hometown," said Marilu Leyva, 36, who fled gang violence and a physically abusive husband in the Mexican state of Michoacan with her two children, ages 12 and 5. She said she got by working on her brother's guava farm but gangs were extorting more money from her brother.

   Mexican asylum-seekers waiting in Tijuana come largely from the states of Michoacan and Guerrero, where towns have been terrorized by drug-fueled violence for more than a decade. Gangs threaten children and young adults to join or face retaliation.

   Fernando Cruz, 35, joined his sister Elizabeth, also 35, who fled her home in Guerrero state with her 13-year-old son after the boy was ordered to join a gang. Cruz compared conditions there to Guatemala.

   "The people of Guatemala are looking for a way out and that's why they come to the United States," he said. "Guatemala is poor and dangerous."

   Mexicans accounted for nearly three-fourths of people who turned themselves in to seek help at official U.S.-Mexico crossing in December -- as opposed to those who crossed the border illegally. They were about evenly split between single adults and people who came with families.

   The growing profile of Mexican asylum-seekers is due at least in part to them being exempt from a policy to make them wait in Mexico for immigration court hearings in the U.S. They are also free to travel across Mexico, unlike Central Americans who are increasingly bottled up in southern Mexico due to heightened border enforcement there.

   Many of Trump's sweeping changes to immigration policies are being challenged in U.S. court.

   On Wednesday, a decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in New Orleans, allowed the administration to divert $3.6 billion in military funding to border wall construction.

   The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco heard arguments Thursday on two cases, one on a policy to deny visas to people who don't have or can't afford health insurance and another that seeks to narrow the scope of the policy to make asylum-seekers wait in Mexico for hearings in the U.S.

   YUMA, Ariz. (AP) -- Trump administration officials on Friday touted the 100th mile (161st kilometer) of border wall to be built since the president took office as crossings have continued to drop.

   Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf responded to critics who say the new construction is only replacing old fencing. The new, 30-foot (9 meter) walls do replace other barriers, but those were shorter and easier to cross. Wolf said he's confident the administration will build or start to build 400 to 450 miles (644 to to 724 kilometers) by the end of the year.

   "The wall system you see behind me is an undeniable impediment to smugglers, traffickers and other criminals who have exploited our lack of effective border infrastructure to smuggle drugs, illicit goods and engage in human trafficking," Wolf said.

    He spoke in Yuma, Arizona, a far-flung region of the Southwest near California that's seen dramatic highs and lows in illegal border crossings over the past two years. Most of those crossing are families.

   Officials in Yuma are building a 5-mile (8-kilometer) section of wall along the Colorado River, where the Border Patrol says most migrants crossed.

   Yuma's nearly 97% drop in the number of families since May is partially because the area's adoption of the Remain in Mexico program, which forces asylum-seekers to wait south of the border while their cases wind through court.

   On Monday, the Yuma Sector began implementing a program first tested in El Paso, Texas, that fast-tracks asylum claims but is being challenged in federal court. The Prompt Asylum Case Review requires asylum-seekers to wait in Customs and Border Protection custody while their cases are decided within 10 days. Immigrant rights activists say it puts migrants, especially children, at risk by keeping them in facilities where allegations of abuse and mistreatment run rampant.