Despite the tens of thousands of unaccompanied children who have arrived at the country's southwestern border since October, the number of kids taken into custody significantly decreased in July.
The number of unaccompanied children apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border in July — 5,508 — was reduced by almost half of previous numbers. Nearly 11,000 arrived at the border in each of the prior two months, according to updated figures released Thursday by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. There was also a major decrease in the number of adults with children — from 16,330 in June to 7,410 in July — who were taken into custody.
So far this year, officials reported the highest amount of apprehended unaccompanied children in June, while January had the fewest with 3,706. Apprehensions during the first week of August continued with the trend in July, Johnson said.
"While the decrease in apprehensions in July is good news and reflects a positive trend that we hope continues, the current numbers are still higher than the number of apprehensions for children and adults with children during past years," Johnson said in a statement. "We continue to have much work to do to address this issue and our message continues to be clear — 'our border is not open to illegal migration.’"
The surge in immigrants along the border escalated into both a humanitarian crisis and a political challenge for the Obama administration. The U.S. government issued public media campaigns throughout Central America that make the dangers of the trip clear to potential immigrants. Many Republicans are anxious to return the children to their home countries as quickly as possible in the hope that mass deportations will deter other minors from attempting the journey north. The White House continues to search for ways to expedite the deportation process for individuals who don't qualify for asylum in the United States. But the process to determine who is eligible for asylum can involve a sometimes lengthy court process.
The government recently opened additional detention facilities and increased the number of flights to return immigrants to their home countries. Johnson also implemented "Operation Coyote" to enforce security on the criminal smuggling organizations that operate in the Rio Grande Valley.
Congressional leaders left for their August recess without acting on Obama's request for supplemental financing to address the border crisis. Funds allocated for care of the children will be depleted by the end of the month without an agreed-upon spending bill. To avoid running out of resources, Johnson transferred money from other homeland security missions to support the response to the border crisis.
House Speaker John Boehner suggested that the president should act on the issue without Congress' help — only two days after the Republican leader announced the House GOP would file a lawsuit against Obama for his use of executive powers on the Affordable Care Act.
The president is considering executive actions that could block millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation. He allegedly might extend the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Removals (DACA) program to parents of U.S. citizens or DREAMers, who are young undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.