The surge of illegal immigrant families and unaccompanied children dropped dramatically in July, and the Obama administration said it’s finally getting a handle on the problem.
More than 10,600 unaccompanied children were apprehended at the border in June, but last month that dropped to 5,508. And the 16,330 adults with children caught in June dropped to 7,410.
Both mark significant turnarounds that put the rate closer to what it was in the late spring — still on target for a record year, but not as much as was once feared.
“We have surged resources and put in place an aggressive campaign to counter the rise of illegal migration into the Rio Grande Valley,” said Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, in announcing the drop.
He said the department has sped up deportation times for adults, so some are now removed in just four days, by adding in more detention beds, boosting flights back to Central America and deploying more judges to hear cases.
Mr. Johnson also said outreach by President Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden may have helped convince Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to step up their efforts to stem the flow.
But there are other possible reasons for the drop as well.
In an internal memo earlier this year, a Border Patrol official said the illegal immigrants from Central America had been told they needed to arrive in May or June in order to take advantage of the “permisos,” or free passes, that smugglers were saying were available in the U.S.
Those permisos were apparently the papers given to illegal immigrants telling them they were free to go as long as they eventually appeared for a deportation hearing. Many of the illegal immigrants ignore the papers, disappearing into the shadows with millions of other illegal immigrants.
Some border officials also say the flow is seasonal, and when the hot weather in July and August turns cooler in the fall, the numbers will go up again.
This week the Health and Human Services Department announced it would begin to close down the shelters it set up on three military bases to hold the children, saying the numbers had dropped and the shelters weren’t needed. But HHS also said it reserved the right to reopen the shelters should the numbers increase again.