What’s Causing Less Central American Children to Enter the U.S.?

Despite worsening conditions in Central America, less children have arrived than expected, according to Border Patrol.

So far, there has not been a repeat of last year’s record number of newly arrived children from Central America. In fact, the number of southern border apprehensions of all undocumented immigrants has dropped 28 percent this year from the same period last year. The number of children apprehended has fallen even more, and is only about half the number who came last year. Border apprehensions provide a good approximation of the total number of attempts to cross into the United States.

Although a study by the Migration Policy Institute predicted an increase in newly arrived children similar to the one that caught media attention last year, the Border Patrol says that its intelligence shows a much smaller number are en route. Last year’s child arrivals began to peak in April and continued in large numbers until August.

The underlying conditions that drove the children to flee their countries in 2014 continue in Central America. Gang violence has not let up. In fact the murder rate in El Salvador increased in 2014, rising by 57 percent. A few new initiatives to help beef-up anti-gang efforts have been put into place, but Congress has been unwilling to provide the level of funding that would make these effective.

Some parents may have chosen not to have their children follow the dangerous path north, opting instead for a new legal way to apply for protection while the children are still in their home countries. Hundreds of parents have applied for their children to be interviewed in United States consulates for refugee status. Unfortunately, this program has been slow to get started. The delays may undermine confidence in it as a way to gain legal protection.

Finally, the Mexican government is being pressured to turn the children back at that country’s own southern border. Given the poor human rights record of the Mexican authorities, this may be the least humane solution.

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Patrick Young blogs daily for Long Island Wins. He is the Downstate Advocacy Director of the New York Immigration Coalition and Special Professor of Immigration Law at Hofstra School of Law. He served as the Director of Legal Services and Program at Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) for three decades before retiring in 2019. Pat is also a student of immigration history and the author of The Immigrants' Civil War.