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Southern U.S. Border Sees A Slowdown In Unaccompanied Minors From Central America

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine agents patrol the Rio Grande in Texas on the border with Mexico.
Eric Gay
U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine agents patrol the Rio Grande in Texas on the border with Mexico.

As summer ends, it's becoming clear that we won't see a repeat of last year's "border surge" of Central American minors seeking asylum at the U.S. southern border.

That surge captivated headlines, clogged immigration courts, and caused President Obama to declare a border crisis last year.

But this year is different, according to researchers at the DC-based Migration Policy Institute (MPI).

"The numbers have declined almost as sharply in 2015 as they surged in 2014," said Marc Rosenblum, Deputy Director of MPI's Immigration Policy Program.

Last year, under pressure from the United States, Mexico implemented its own "Southern Border Plan."

Researchers at MPI say the apprehensions of Central Americans at the U.S. border have fallen by more than 50 percent compared to 2014's numbers, due to "increasingly muscular enforcement by Mexico."

"It appears that some of the children who used to show up in the apprehension data in the U.S. are now being stopped by Mexican enforcement authorities," said Rodrigo Dominguez Villegas. He's the author, along with Victoria Rietig, of the new MPI report about deportations from the U.S. and Mexico back to Central America.

The researchers say Mexico's increased capacity to intercept appears to be changing long-time patterns of apprehensions of Central American minors. For every 100 minors apprehended in Mexico in 2014, 77 were deported. Only three out of 100 such minors in the United States were deported.

This year, Mexico is on pace to apprehend slightly more Central American minors than the U.S., according to Dominguez Villegas.

"But Mexico is on pace to deport about twelve times as many children as does the U.S.," he said.

Regardless of these apprehension and deportation rates by both the U.S. and Mexico, researchers say family reunification and the desire to escape violence still appear to be the driving forces for Central Americans to make the arduous journey through Mexico to the United States.

"Women and children are particularly vulnerable to gang violence, but also domestic violence. And there's a growth of 'door-to-door' services that are offered by smuggling networks," said Rietig.

One of the major take-aways from the MPI report is the need for a regional migration policy between the U.S., Mexico and Central American countries, according Doris Meissner, director of MPI's U.S. immigration policy program. It isn't enough to simply "squeeze the balloon," or intercept the flow at a different place.

"To succeed, responses to regional migration dynamics must move beyond shifting the flows and instead deflating the pressures that generate them," said Meissner.

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Richard Gonzales is NPR's National Desk Correspondent based in San Francisco. Along with covering the daily news of region, Gonzales' reporting has included medical marijuana, gay marriage, drive-by shootings, Jerry Brown, Willie Brown, the U.S. Ninth Circuit, the California State Supreme Court and any other legal, political, or social development occurring in Northern California relevant to the rest of the country.
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