U.S. Border Arrests of Children, Families Surge 52% in August
Published on September 23rd, 2015
U.S. Border Patrol agents patrolling the fence near Naco, Ariz. Photo: Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press
Nearly 10,000 unaccompanied minors and families were arrested; White House calls numbers ‘surprising uptick’
Alicia A. Caldwell
September 23, 2015
Wall Street Journal
WASHINGTON—The U.S. Border Patrol arrested nearly 10,000 unaccompanied immigrant children and families who were illegally crossing the border with Mexico in August, a 52% jump from a year ago, according to statistics published by the agency.
The August increase comes a year after a surge of more than 68,000 unaccompanied children at the U.S.-Mexico border. Many were trying to escape violence in Honduras, El Salvador or Guatemala.
Last month’s increase is also unusual, because illegal border crossings typically decline in August and because it reflects a turnaround for the number of arrests of families and children illegally entering the U.S., which had been declining this year compared with 2014.
The Border Patrol said it arrested 9,790 unaccompanied immigrant children and families last month, compared with 6,424 in August 2014.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the August numbers were a “surprising uptick” and a “concern” for the administration. Mr. Earnest didn’t provide a reason for the increase but said it was at odds with the usual decline in border crossings in August.
Adam Isacson, a border expert and senior analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, said the 4,632 unaccompanied children caught at the border last month is the highest number his agency has recorded for the month of August since their records began in 2009.
Historically, crossings start to slow after springtime highs, Mr. Isacson said. But July saw an uptick and now the number of unaccompanied children crossing in August has begun to rival numbers from the beginning and the end of last year’s surge, he said.
This could indicate the beginning of another surge, Mr. Isacson said, noting that the number of people caught traveling as families also ticked upward last month.
“It could be a flash in the pan, but we are going up the trend line,” he said.
Since the start of the fiscal year in October, border agents have arrested more than 35,000 children traveling alone and more than 34,500 people traveling as families, mostly mothers and children. The total number of arrests for the year is down nearly 50% compared with a year ago, but border agents have reported a jump in arrests since July.
It was unclear exactly what has led to the overall decrease in border arrests of families and children, but Mexico has stepped up enforcement along its southern border.
The administration was caught off guard by the sudden surge of children and families in 2014 and made several efforts to curb the flow of people crossing the border illegally, including media campaigns to discourage people from making the dangerous trip across Mexico. The administration also opened family detention centers that could house thousands of people while they awaited deportation hearings. The detention centers were established in part because about 70% of families released at the border and ordered to report back to immigration authorities failed to return to face deportation hearings.
A federal judge in California ruled last month that the Homeland Security Department’s detention of families violated a long-standing legal agreement requiring that immigrant children not be held in secure facilities that aren’t licensed to care for children.
The government filed an appeal in that case on Friday, and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said the detention centers were being converted into processing centers for interviews and screenings.