An anticipated flood of illegal immigrant children crossing the U.S. southeastern border, similar to the surge of crossings seen last summer, has yet to materialize this year. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency says unaccompanied children were crossing in 2015 at rates that are staggeringly lower than in 2014 and 2013, the Washington Times reported.
While thousands of children are still being caught, the pace is slower than 2014’s summer spike, which saw 7,700 apprehended at the southwest border in April, and more than 10,000 apprehended in May and in June. This April, only 3,272 unaccompanied minors were apprehended, amounting to a drop of 58 percent year to year. The change suggests that some of the Obama administration’s measures to discourage these border crossings have worked.
The U.S. Border Patrol predicted that as many as 90,000 children would cross the border in fiscal year 2014, and possibly another 120,000 this year. But by the end of 2014, only 68,541 children were caught crossing the border.
Through the first seven months of the current fiscal year, 18,919 children were caught, down from the 36,280 in the same period of 2013. The government also is reportedly meeting its legal 72-hour deadline for processing the minors, officially called Unaccompanied Alien Children. Many are quickly placed with relatives or foster families in the United States.
“It’s a combination of all the things” that are slowing the border crossings, Ronald D. Vitiello, deputy chief of the Border Patrol, told The Washington Times. The U.S. strategy has included a public relations campaign launched in Central America, where most of the unaccompanied children are from. Vitiello said the U.S. has been successful in convincing would-be immigrants that there is no free pass for unaccompanied children and that they could be detained and sent back home.
“Being able to message out to the sending countries and to the individuals that would be coming to the border that there was not a free ride, that they were being exploited by the public perception and the smugglers themselves I think they all recognized that,” Vitiello said.
Most of the unaccompanied children had been coming from three Central American countries: Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, according to the Border Patrol. They traveled without their parents in networks often shepherded by paid “coyotes,” or human smugglers. The shepherds were be paid as much as $6,000 per child to get them to the U.S. border, where the children were pointed toward Border Patrol agents.