With apprehension numbers exceeding the unprecedented highs reached in FY 2014, there are already murmurs that this year’s surge in unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally could reach 100,000.
“I’ve heard numbers of anywhere from 70,000 to 100,000,” Wendy Young, president of the Kids in Need of Defense (KiND), said in an interview with the Phoenix New Times. The Kids in Need of Defense (KiND), is a non-profit organization, co-founded by actress Angelina Jolie, that works to represent unaccompanied minors during their deportation proceedings.
In recent years the southern border has experienced a heavy influx of “children” (under the age of 18) traveling without a guardian and “family units,” largely from Central America, seeking access to the U.S.
The flow reached record levels in FY 2014 when Customs and Border Patrol apprehended more than 68,541 minors and 68,445 “families” at the southern border. The majority of those apprehended illegally crossing the border remain in the U.S., ostensibly awaiting immigration proceedings.
Many observers of the situation however remain concerned that this fiscal year is already on pace to meet, if not exceed, the overwhelming numbers of FY 2014.
According to Border Patrol data, the first six months of FY 2016 saw 27,754 unaccompanied minors apprehended illegally crossing into the U.S. The level to date is 78 percent higher than the 15,616 unaccompanied minors apprehended over the same timeframe in FY 2015 and similar to the 28,579 apprehended in FY 2014.
Another 32,117 “family” members — or adults traveling with children — were apprehended over that same six month time period this fiscal year, an increase of 62 percent over FY 2014.
Democrats and advocates, like Young, argue the surge is due to violence and poverty in the migrants’ home countries. Immigration hawks and Republicans point out the the spikes have occurred in conjunction with a precipitous decline in immigration enforcement under the Obama administration. They argue that Obama’s amnesty programs have served as enticements for illegal immigration.
Young explained to the New Times that the relative decline in unaccompanied minor and “family” illegal immigration last fiscal year was due in large part to U.S. funding for enforcement south of the border.
“From a law-enforcement perspective that was working,” Young told the New Times. “Then the smugglers shifted their routes. So they managed to work their way around Mexican enforcement.”
In anticipation of even higher numbers than were experienced in FY 2014, Young noted that there are already concerns about potential “backlash” against the illegal migration.
“We are quite concerned that there will be a huge backlash against these kids,” Young told the New Times. “and that we’re going to forget that they’re refugees and we’re going to forget that they are children and adopt even harsher law-enforcement policies to push them back.”
Under the Obama administration, however, unaccompanied minors who make it to Border Patrol are unlikely to be removed anytime soon.
According the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest, just 3.6 percent of the unaccompanied minors apprehended illegally entering the U.S. over the past 2.5 years have been deported.