The number of individuals illegally crossing the southern U.S. border has more than increased twofold over the same time last fall, motivating consternation about a fresh increase of migrants from Central America.
Many more unaccompanied children are also crossing, with 4,476 apprehended in September – an 85% growth over that month in 2014, as outlined by new Border Patrol information.
“If that trend even continues a little bit, if things start to go up in February as they usually do, we could be looking at things getting really high, and by spring, you’re seeing an emergency,” stated Adam Isacson, a senior associate at the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights advocacy crew.
Marsha Catron, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, affirms the agency is “closely monitoring this situation,” though the growth “is not entirely inconsistent with historical trends for these months.”
The issue among immigration officials and advocates is that the circumstances is building up to a recurring of the unprecedented influx on the southern border in 2014, when more than 68,000 unaccompanied children and as many individuals crossed illegally, primarily into Texas.
Texas’ Rio Grande Valley has been the epicenter of both the earlier and the latest inflow. In 2014, the region observed 77% more unaccompanied children and more than four times as many individuals captured crossing in comparison with the previous year. The number of individuals who crossed this September was 5,273, more than twice the number observed in September 2014.
One likely element in the rising numbers is the boosting success rate of smugglers who, after crackdowns in Mexico and the U.S. last year, seem to have organized alternative smuggling routes and payoff relationships with Mexican officials, border analysts point out.
A bigger element is thought to be a current surge of violence in El Salvador, which has long been affected by gang warfare. Last year a two-year truce dissolved between the two largest gangs: 18th Street and Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13, both of which started in Los Angeles. That drove homicides above even earlier troubling levels.
In the course of the first 10 months of this year, El Salvador revealed nearly 5,500 homicides, as outlined by a congressional report last month. That’s more than any other country not at war, based on Elizabeth Kennedy, a San Diego State University social scientist who has worked with migrants.
By the end of this year, the homicide rate in El Salvador – a country of 6.5 million people – may surpass 90 per 100,000, a level of violence, which includes massacres and killings of law enforcement, not witnessed since the country’s bloody 12-year civil war that ended in 1992.
Kennedy mentioned conditions also remain poor in Guatemala and Honduras – two other originators of illegal migration to the U.S. – but El Salvador is a whole lot worse.
“El Salvador is hemorrhaging people,” Isacson stated.
The number of unaccompanied children from El Salvador apprehended at the border more than increased twofold to 1,433 this September in comparison with last year.
The one-month peak in the child and family migration surge came in June 2014, when 16,330 families and 10,620 unaccompanied children crossed into the U.S. State and federal authorities cracked down the next month, sending in National Guard troops and launching enormous FEMA camps.
By September of 2014, the amount apprehended at the border plummeted: Families decreased to 2,301 that month; children to 2,426.
As the numbers dropped, Sister Norma Pimentel thought of closing a humanitarian center run by Sacred Heart Catholic Church in the most seriously impacted town, McAllen, last winter. Then the number of migrants began to climb again this spring, with just about 800 staying overnight in July – three times as many as at the maximum of last year’s summer spike. Instead of closing, Pimentel made the decision to broaden.
Last year’s spike of illegal immigration was driven, to some extent, by gossip that migrant families would be provided authorization to stay in the U.S. legally. Many immigrants excitedly surrendered to authorities at the border, believing it was a step toward residency.
U.S. officials introduced a public information campaign across Central America to make it apparent there was no such program. Yet hundreds of immigrant families caught crossing between July and September this year informed immigration officials they assumed they would be allowed to stay and collect public benefits, based on records released last month to the House Judiciary Committee.
But Catron states those are not the only factors migrants are coming.
“One internal report that summarizes results of interviews, where migrants are explicitly questioned about pull factors, is not intended to be a comprehensive analysis of the situation,” she stated. “Both pull and push factors contribute to migration and apprehension levels. As we have consistently acknowledged, poverty and violence in Central America continue to exist as push factors.”
On one recent day, Sacred Heart observed a hundred migrants turn up seeking help. “The reason they are coming is how things are at home,” Pimentel explained.
She observed that the elevated worries of families and unaccompanied children come at a period when Mexico is apprehending even more migrants than is the U.S.
“We’re seeing more and more indications that this is a refugee crisis, and it needs to be treated as such,” explained Kennedy, who interviewed immigrant women, mostly mothers, for a new United Nations document released last month that recorded a thirteenfold boost in asylum seekers within Mexico and Central America since 2008, and a almost fivefold leap in the U.S.
“The violence being perpetrated by organized, transnational criminal groups in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and certain parts of Mexico has become pervasive,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres stated lately, likening the circumstances in Central America to the Syrian refugee problems.
The current uptick in illegal immigration into the U.S. belies a greater development. The total number of immigrants crossing the southern border has in fact reduced for decades, and for the fiscal year that just ended, it may drop below 300,000 for the first time since 1971.
Catron observed that the number of worries on the southern border had hit a historic low, which includes 42% fewer families and unaccompanied children caught in comparison with the previous fiscal year.
In one sign that smugglers may be playing a role in the September spike, 410 families and unaccompanied children were caught crossing into the remote Big Bend location in western Texas, in comparison with 23 last year. There were 475 in a countryside stretch of desert near Yuma, Ariz., in comparison with 72 last year.
“The fact that more remote sectors are seeing increases may mean they’re turning to areas where they don’t need to deal with Border Patrol,” Isacson stated.