Skip to Content

Illegal Border Crossings by Families Drop Sharply

4 Feb

The number of women and children illegally crossing the southwest border into the United States dropped sharply in January, the Department of Homeland Security reported Tuesday, reversing a surge late last year that Obama administration officials feared could become a chaotic influx like the one in 2014.

A 65 percent drop from December to January in crossings by families — mostly women with their children from three violence-torn countries in Central America — came after widely publicized raids in the first days of this year in which 121 migrants were arrested for deportation.

The Homeland Security secretary, Jeh Johnson, called the new border figures “encouraging,” but he said the deportations would continue, clarifying for the first time since the raids that he planned more removals.

With that announcement, Mr. Johnson rebuffed a host of critics who had called for a halt to raids to deport Central American asylum seekers, including more than 150 Democratic lawmakers in Congress. Both Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, have also criticized the raids. Immigration agents had not conducted any high-profile raids since arrests on Jan. 3.

Mr. Johnson did not draw any direct connection between the raids and the steep drop in crossings, but he said a one-month decline “does not mean we can dial back our border security efforts.”

Officials said Mr. Johnson went to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to meet with Representatives Luis V. Gutiérrez of Illinois and Zoe Lofgren of California, Democrats who had demanded an end to the raids, to tell them that the enforcement would continue.

In January there were 3,145 apprehensions by the Border Patrol of migrants in families, down from 8,974 in December. Additionally, agents caught 3,113 children crossing without parents in January, a 54 percent decrease from 6,786 in December. Overall apprehensions at the southwest border declined 36 percent from December and were at the lowest levels since January 2015, according to the figures.

It was not clear what had caused the drop in the migrant flow. Women held in detention centers in South Texas said they were fleeing from an epidemic of killings and extortion by criminal gangs that had spread even to rural villages, especially in El Salvador and Honduras.

In January, the Obama administration announced that it was working with the United Nations to create a new refugee program for those two countries and Guatemala, which would allow migrants to apply in the region without risking a journey to the United States border. But officials have not announced a timetable for that effort to begin.