GAO: Administration Efforts To Stem Illegal Migration Could Increase it

While this year the number of unaccompanied Central American minors apprehended attempting to illegally enter the U.S. is slightly lower than last year, the Government Accountability Office reports that the level of migration from Central America is still high.

Rather than the U.S. apprehending the illegal immigrant minors, however, Mexico has stepped up its apprehension efforts.

“Recent data indicate the pace of migration from Central America remains high, though fewer migrants are being apprehended in the United States,” reads a new GAO report on the effectiveness of U.S. programs aimed at deterring this kind of migration.

GAO explains that as of May 2015 nearly 23,000 unaccompanied minors were apprehended at the southwest border in fiscal year 2015. Through May of FY 2014 more then twice that number were apprehended: 47,000. In that same timeframe in FY 2013 24,500 were apprehended.

While the dip appears positive, the GAO notes that decreased migration might not be the reason for the decline.

“According to research from the nongovernmental organization (NGO) the Washington Office on Latin America, Central American migrants are being detained in Mexico at a higher rate this year compared with last year, with more than 90,000 Central American migrants detained in Mexico during the first 7 months of fiscal year 2015 compared with around 50,000 during the same period of fiscal year 2014,” the report reads.

Following last years’ peak in illegal immigration by unaccompanied minors, the Obama administration embarked on a campaign to deter Central Americans from taking the journey north.

According to the GAO’s audit, however, the effectiveness of those programs is unclear due to a lack of performance measures, feedback and the time between campaigns. Ironically GAO concludes that the efforts too stem the flow could actually serve to increase it.

“Moreover, given the increased presence of children in recent migration cycles, these campaigns need to be timed right and deliver appropriate messages,” the report reads. “Carrying out ineffective campaigns could lead to higher levels of migration to the United States, which is not only potentially costly in terms of U.S. taxpayer resources but costly and dangerous to the migrants and their families.”

The agency acknowledged that the Obama administration’s immigration policies and confusion about them have played a role in the surge of illegal migration.

According to agency officials, general perceptions concerning U.S. immigration policy have played a growing role in UAC migration. Agency officials noted they relied on outreach efforts, focus groups, and other information sources to try to understand this factor. The GAO writes:

According to State officials in El Salvador and Guatemala, local media outlets have optimistically discussed comprehensive immigration reform efforts in the United States and sometimes failed to discuss the complexity of immigration reform. According to State officials, many Guatemalan citizens believe undocumented migrants in the United States will be encouraged to send for their children from Guatemala so they can come to the United States and they can benefit together for any upcoming comprehensive immigration reform, or even be eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. In addition, according to USAID officials, Honduran youth and coordinators of community centers who were interviewed as part of a USAID focus group indicated they believed the United States would allow migrant minors, mothers traveling with minors, and pregnant women to stay for a period of time upon arrival in the United States.


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