While the level of border apprehensions of unaccompanied minors and adults traveling with children this fiscal year has dwarfed years past, the month of January saw fewer migrants detained illegally entering the U.S. than months prior.
In January, Customs and Border Patrol apprehended 3,113 unaccompanied minors and 3,145 adults with children, according to new Customs and Border Protection data. There were 23,767 overall apprehensions at the border.
The level of apprehensions represents a decline compared to earlier months. Total apprehensions were down nearly a third compared to December and apprehensions of unaccompanied minors and so-called family units dropped by more than 50 percent.
Department of Homeland Security Sec. Jeh Johnson highlighted the new numbers as representing a decline in attempts to illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border. The decline in apprehensions follows last month’s DHS enforcement actions to remove 121 illegal immigrant family units in the U.S. who crossed the border illegally after May 2014 and had been issued final orders of removal.
The DHS secretary indicated such immigration enforcement actions — though minor compared to the hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrant arrivals since 2014 — would continue.
“While the one-month decline in January is encouraging, this does not mean we can dial back our border security efforts. Recent enforcement actions, which focus on those apprehended at the border on or after January 1, 2014, will continue,” Johnson said in a statement.
While minor compared to the overall number of illegal immigrants who remain in the U.S., immigration activists and Democrats have decried the enforcement actions, claiming the largely Central American migrants who have illegally immigrated to the U.S. deserve protection.
Johnson acknowledged those concerns, saying that DHS would ignore large swaths of illegal immigrants who are in the U.S. and only take action against those who recently arrived and have committed serious crimes.
“Our borders are not open to illegal migration. If someone was apprehended at the border, has been ordered deported by an immigration court, has no pending appeal, and does not qualify for asylum or other relief from removal under our laws, he or she must be sent home. We must enforce the law in accordance with our enforcement priorities,” he said.
While there was a decline in apprehensions last month, the level of illegal immigration so far this fiscal year — which began on October 1, 2015 — is 102 percent higher than the level recorded last year for unaccompanied minors, with 20,455 apprehensions, and 171 percent higher for family units with 124,616 apprehensions.
Democrats have argued that violence in Central America is fueling the migration north. Republicans point to the Obama administration’s amnesty programs and lax enforcement polices as enticements for illegal immigration.