The number of Central American migrants stopped by Mexican officials at their southern border fell dramatically in two recent months, likely foreshadowing a similar drop at the U.S. border.
Roughly 285 people a day were stopped entering Mexico from Guatemala in December and January, according statistics from the Mexican government. Those numbers represent a 20 percent drop from the same months a year earlier.
President Donald Trump took office Jan. 20 following a raucous campaign where he made combating illegal immigration a centerpiece. Once sworn in, Trump signed several executive orders geared toward making it more difficult to enter the country illegally or to win asylum and easier to deport those who are already here. Last week, his administration threatened to separate children from their parents once apprehended at the border, enhancing perceptions that migrants were unwelcome.
Amy Fischer, the policy director for the Texas-based Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, said it was still too early to know precisely why apprehensions were down in Mexico and along the U.S. border, where the Department of Homeland Security reported a 36 percent drop in February detentions. “Maybe they’re not coming” because of reports that families might be separated, she said. “Maybe they’re going somewhere else. And maybe they’re in wait-and-see mode to see how long they can hold out without coming.”
There is a legitimate fear of folks coming.
Amy Fischer, Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services
The December and January drop in Mexican apprehensions was not reflected in detentions at the U.S. border, but the decline in February and a 40 percent drop in apprehensions at the U.S. border from January to February likely reflected the time it takes for a Central American migrant to transit Mexico and reach the United States.
The drop in apprehensions also has meant fewer migrant mothers and children are being held in family detention centers.
At one point, the Obama administration held more than 2,000 parents and children at three family detention centers, in Karnes City and Dilley, Texas, and in Berks County, Pennsylvania. Most were women seeking asylum.
The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services reports fewer than 500 are currently held in the facilities.
While Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly touted the new trend as a sign that fewer people are risking their lives to make the dangerous journey north, Fischer said the reality was more women were remaining in violent conditions when they needed help.