Central American kids are not coming across the U.S. southern border at the record rate they were a year ago, but the crisis is not over.
So far this year—a point when the uptick was just beginning last year—the number of migrants coming across America’s border has stabilized. While many of the children who came last summer are still here, meandering through the U.S. court system, the rate of new flows has dropped significantly. At this time last year, 21,403 unaccompanied Central American kids had crossed into the United States and by the end of the year, nearly 70,000 had come, putting a strain on U.S. Border Patrol and the Health and Human Services Department, which was required by law to place Central American children in temporary housing so they could be screened for refugee status. This year, the numbers are down 42 percent. Just 12,509 children have been apprehended.
But border crossings from Mexico to the United States don’t tell the whole story.
While Central Americans aren’t making it to the U.S. at the same rate, the push factors that drove the crisis last summer show no sign of abating. Gang violence and murder rates remain high in Central America, especially in El Salvador and Honduras. And the family ties and economic opportunities that have pulled migrants to the U.S. for years are still magnets.
What has significantly shifted is Mexico’s investment to secure its own southern borders with Belize and Guatemala. What were in previous years more-porous crossing sites have now been reinforced with stringent security.
Christopher Wilson, a senior associate at the Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said on a recent trip he observed a far stronger presence of Mexican authorities and an increase in patrols along swaths of land that once were un-patrolled. Mexico also is in the process of erecting four new checkpoints further north in the interior to combat drug and human smuggling. And the Mexican government has cracked down on the number of migrants traveling on La Bestia—a dangerous network of cargo trains that immigrants have hopped aboard for years to travel through Mexico.