By PETE KASPEROWICZ • 10/8/16 12:01 AM

The new surge of illegal immigration at the southern border is being driven by the U.S. election and the related debate over whether to ease or tighten immigration laws, according to representatives of border agents and border-state sheriffs.

The last few months have seen a dramatic rise in apprehensions of illegal immigrants, on a scale that rivals 2014, when members of both parties agreed it became a humanitarian crisis. That crisis abated in 2015, but the numbers have spiked again, and federal officials have mostly been silent on why.

According to border officials, the election is a major factor. They say Donald Trump's threat to build a wall and shut down all illegal immigration is creating an incentive for people to make it to the U.S. before Trump takes over.

But they also say the possibility of Hillary Clinton winning creates its own incentive, since many perceive or hope that she might create an amnesty program for illegal immigrants, and hope to be in the U.S. already when that happens.

As a result, there's a reason to try to get into the U.S. in the next few months, regardless of who wins, according to the National Border Patrol Council, which represents about 18,000 border agents.

"We are ... experiencing a new surge of illegal immigration along the Southern Border," the National Border Patrol Council said Friday. "This is not unexpected, since when there is talk of easing enforcement or tightening enforcement illegal immigration increases."

The Council noted that immigration has been a major issue in the 2016 elections, which creates an unclear picture of the future of immigration policy. "This uncertainty causes individuals to risk the dangerous journey so they can be in the U.S. before any changes are made," it said.

Sheriffs based in Arizona agreed with that assessment and said it comports with what they hear directly from border agents.

Sheriff Leon Wilmot of the Yuma County Sheriff's Office told the Washington Examiner that illegal immigrants are still not facing any real penalties for crossing over to the United States, which is making the problem worse.

"Apprehensions here are up considerably because of this belief that they will not be deported and will be allowed on public assistance and will not be deported," he said. "With no repercussions or consequence. .. they are rushing here to beat the elections."

Federal statistics back up the idea that illegal immigrants are surging at the border once more.

Total apprehensions of illegal immigrants at the southwestern U.S. border will likely exceed 400,000 for the fiscal year (data for the last month of the fiscal year will be out any day now). That's lower than the 479,000 seen in FY 2014, but well above the 331,000 seen in FY 2015.

The number of unaccompanied alien children caught at the border will likely exceed 60,000 in FY 2016, a 50 percent increase from the year before.

The data show that a surge of illegal immigrants over just the last few months is driving the total numbers higher for 2016, a sign that the election is having an influence. Total apprehensions in August of this year far exceeded total apprehensions in 2014, the crisis year.

Similarly, apprehensions of unaccompanied alien children in August were nearly 90 percent higher than they were in August 2014. These "UAC" apprehensions are also expected to be higher in September than they were two years earlier.

Whoever wins the election, Sheriff Mark Dannels of Cochise County, Arizona, told the Examiner that local law enforcement will need to be in any plans to help control the situation at the border. He said today, the cost of enforcement efforts are falling on local authorities, and that means local authorities need to be included to help improve outcomes.

"Local sheriffs and police chiefs have stepped up over time to address these failures in hopes of bringing a relief to those in harm's way," he said. "Unfortunately, these costs have placed a huge burden to local governments."

"Local law enforcement is the key to problem solving and community policing and to truly address border security, we need to be at the solution table," he said.