People smugglers appear to be outwitting Mexican authorities as the number of unaccompanied minors from Central America apprehended inside the U.S. border has dramatically increased this year.
Following the 2014 surge in children picked up after crossing the border, the numbers halved the following year in the face of a U.S.-supported clampdown by Mexico.
But now the numbers have climbed again, to close to 40,000 from the beginning of October 2015 to the end of May.
“Smugglers, like any good businesspeople, adapted their model and use new routes to get around increased enforcement,” said Megan McKenna of Kids In Need of Defense (KIND), an advocacy and support for unaccompanied minors.
In 2015, children were still leaving their countries in the same numbers, but were not able to reach the U.S. border, she added.
“The drop in numbers in 2015 was largely due to Programa Frontera Sur,” said McKenna, referring to the Mexican government’s enhanced enforcement program to intercept minors, and other immigrants, coming from Central America, which began July 2014.
“The result is it increased the apprehension and deportation in Mexico of unaccompanied children, many of them trying to come to the U.S,” said McKenna.
Latest figures released by U.S Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reveal that 38,566 unaccompanied minors, or unaccompanied alien children, were apprehended at the border since October. This compares to 22,832 in Fiscal Year 2015 and 46,858 in FY'14. (The Fiscal Year ends each Sept. 30.)
Nationals of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala make up the majority of unaccompanied minors. There was also a sharp increase in family units, usually mothers with children.
The agency declined to be interviewed by AMI Newswire, or speculate on the reasons for the increase this year.
But in a statement. CBP said recent monthly increases are “consistent with seasonal patterns and remain significantly below the historical highs seen in 2014.”
”We continue to work aggressively to address the underlying causes of illegal migration, to deter future increases, to further secure our border and to support broader regional efforts to provide avenues for protection of vulnerable populations in Central America,” the agency said.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson recently visited Central America to reiterate that our borders are not open to illegal migration, the agency said, adding that “general push factors, which include high rates of violence, continue.”
Bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate that would make it easier for unaccompanied children to be returned more quickly and efficiently to their home countries.
The Senate bill, the Protect the Children Act, would amend the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008.
It would allow “expedited processing for unaccompanied alien children who are not victims of a severe form of trafficking in persons and who do not have a fear of returning to their country of nationality or last habitual residence, and for other purposes.”
Sen. Jeff Sessions, (R-Ala.), one of the sponsors, said in a statement: “The American people want and deserve a lawful immigration system, but instead we have a system that is manipulated at every turn, resulting in a virtual collapse of enforcement.”
“Our nation’s schools, hospitals and social services are facing massive, unsustainable strain,” said Sen. Sessions, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest, in the statement issued following the introduction of the bill.
“The root causes of their flight are still there: the increasing violence in their countries, the gangs and cartels targeting the kids,” McKenna said.
Laura Lichter, of the American Association of Immigration Lawyers, said: “All I can tell you is that the kids that we see, and the families, are fleeing pretty horrific situations in the northern triangle countries. Things are that bad and frankly getting worse. It’s a refugee crisis, and it is kind of frustrating the government completely and consistently misidentified the problem.”
In 2015, “we outsourced deportation,” Lichter said. But smugglers, like “cockroaches,” are able to adapt, she added.
Shawn Moran of the National Border Patrol Council, which represents border patrol agents, said, “We believe the lack of consequences is driving this resurgence in unaccompanied minors and families. Until we have something to deter this behavior, we will continue to see this."