McALLEN, Texas (AP) - A Texas border city further cemented its position at the center of a surge of Central American immigrants by opening its fourth foreign diplomatic office Friday.
McAllen is a far cry from Houston and Dallas, where El Salvador has its other consulates in Texas. But the majority of the 63,000 unaccompanied children who entered the U.S. illegally between October and July crossed near McAllen in this southernmost tip of Texas. Nearly 15,000 of them were from El Salvador.
Liduvina Magarin, El Salvador’s vice minister for citizens living abroad, said her government had been planning to open a McAllen office for some time, and she thanked the U.S. government for allowing her country to get the necessary approvals to do so in record time.
“We sped it up due to the increase in the arrival of Salvadoran girls, boys and adolescents at this border,” Magarin said. Guatemala opened a consulate here in December 2011 and Honduras opened a consular office - it does not process passports - in May of this year. Mexico has long had a consulate in the city.
The 63,000 unaccompanied children who entered the U.S. from October through July, about a quarter of whom were from El Salvador, was double the number from the same period a year earlier. Another 63,000 families - mothers or fathers with young children - were arrested during that period. The majority came from Central America.
Those arrests have slowed, however. Arrests of children traveling alone and children and parents traveling together dropped by about half in July from the previous month and the trend appears to have continued in August. Omar Zamora, a spokesman with the Border Patrol in the Rio Grande Valley, said Thursday that the agency has about 30 to 40 unaccompanied children in custody each day in recent weeks. That’s down from peak days earlier this summer when there would be as many as 300.
The reasons for the drop are unclear, but they could include searing summer temperatures, a U.S.-led media messaging campaign in Central America and efforts to crackdown on illegal immigration in Mexico. No one seems to expect the drop to continue.
Magarin said El Salvador understood the flow had slowed, but wanted to establish a permanent presence in McAllen nonetheless. “Hopefully the number doesn’t continue increasing because it doesn’t benefit anyone,” she said. “The best is that our people stay in the country.”