A new surge of migrants have rushed to the U.S. border this fall as deportations of those here illegally have dropped to the lowest levels in nearly a decade.
The spike in Central American families flooding the U.S. border has fueled fears of a new immigration crisis like the one that dominated headlines in 2014 as tens of thousands of mothers and children from Central America raced into the Rio Grande Valley of Texas fleeing violence and poverty.
It also raises questions about whether the United States is prepared for a new surge and about the effectiveness of the Obama administration’s strategy to curb the flow through a combination of immigration enforcement and humanitarian assistance to the nations from which the migrants come.
The number of apprehensions along the border rose by 42 percent in October and November compared with the same two-month period in 2015, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Customs and Border Protection data. The 93,405 apprehensions were the most in any October-November period in at least five years.
Among those, 43,000 were unaccompanied children or children traveling with parents and the vast majority of those – nearly 40,000 – traveled from Central America.
At the same time, the Obama administration has continued to curtail the number of deportations. A separate Pew analysis of Fiscal 2015 data found that the administration deported 333,341 unauthorized immigrants, a 20 percent drop from the prior year. It’s the lowest level of deportations since 2007, during the George W. Bush administration, according to Pew.
The decline is attributed to stricter border enforcement and fewer migrants arriving from Mexico. The Obama administration has also sought to prioritize deportations of those who were convicted of a crime or seen as a threat to public safety.
The drop in Mexican migration has coincided with a steep rise in the number of Central Americans.
In 2014, almost 140,000 unaccompanied children and children and adults traveling as families overwhelmed the Border Patrol and created a humanitarian crisis Washington struggled to handle.
At the time, the administration increased enforcement and expanded the use of family detention centers to hold mothers and children as their immigration cases made their way through the courts.
The administration promised to bring the situation under control by expanding the number of people who could apply to the U.S. refugee program and by working with Congress to secure $750 million to help El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras fight poverty and violence as well as reform their governments.
But families continue to flee Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, three of the most violent countries in the world.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees warned in October that women from Central America would continue to flee their countries because of the escalating tide of violence, including domestic violence and rape, fueled by sophisticated transnational gangs.
The number of Central Americans seeking asylum in the United States has grown nearly eightfold in the last six years. Mexico, Canada, Nicaragua and Costa Rica also have seen an increase in Guatemalans, Hondurans and Salvadorans seeking refugee status, according to the United Nations high commissioner for refugees.