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An unstoppable wave of migrants: more detentions so far this year than in all of 2015

The number of Central American unaccompanied minors and undocumented families fleeing their countries and seeking asylum in the U.S. continues to grow.
22 Jun 2016 – 05:50 PM EDT
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Detentions of Central American migrants on the U.S.-Mexico border continue to rise. Crédito: U.S. Border Patrol

by Jorge Cancino

The wave of Central American migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border hasn't stopped. Despite government efforts to stem the flow - ratcheting up the number of raids on those with deportation orders - apprehensions in the first eight months of this fiscal year exceed the number for all of 2015.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) revealed that the number of apprehensions of unaccompanied minors between October 1, 2015 and May 31 was 38,566. During all of fiscal year 2015, that figure reached 39,970.

The number of families apprehended during the same period (October to May) was 44,524, compared to 39,838 in the entirety of fiscal year 2015.

CBP said that it "continues to closely monitor" the humanitarian situation in Central America that resulted in the wave initially in 2013.

The agency said the number of apprehensions of both children and families "are consistent with seasonal patterns" and insisted that despite a rise in May, numbers "remain well below historical highs seen in 2014" when 68,541 unaccompanied minors and 68,445 families were detained.

Record-setting numbers expected

At a January appearance before Congress, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said that the projection for the end of the fiscal year (September 30, 2016) was 75,000 apprehensions, about 7,000 more than recorded in 2014.

Johnson recently visited El Salvador and Honduras, where many of the migrants come from, and reiterated that the borders of the United States "are not open to illegal or 'irregular' migration."

Nationals from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala make up the majority of unaccompanied minors detained at the border while trying to enter undocumented.

Violence and poverty are the main causes of migration, researchers say. "In El Salvador, the daily murder rate has already reached 23 in a nation of 6 million people," said Elizabeth Kennedy, professor and researcher at San Diego State University and the University of California at Santa Barbara, California, in an interview with Univision News. "And in Honduras crime gets worse every day," she added.

A day in court

The William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) was approved by Congress in 2008, does not allow migrant children traveling alone to be immediately deported - unlike Mexicans - when they are detained by Border Patrol. They must be turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to be processed and then an immigration judge decides their fate.

Of the total number of juveniles detained by CBP at the border since 2014, over 75% are Central Americans. Of those, about 95% were released were released with an order to appear in immigration court.

CBP said it would continue working "to return migrants apprehended at our border who have had an opportunity to make claims for asylum or other form of humanitarian relief and been ordered removed to their home countries."

Almost 32,000 deportation orders

In late May, Univision News reported that between July 18, 2014 and April 26, 2016, immigration courts issued 31,994 deportation orders related to minors detained at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Based on data requested by Univision News to the Department of Justice's Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), in those 22 months the EOIR received 108,115 cases of which 51,723 (47.8%) were completed and 59,239 (52.2%) remain unresolved.

On November 20, 2014 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a memorandum to publicize its new deportation priorities. The list includes Central American migrants who entered the country after January 1, 2014, don't have an asylum case and received a deportation order.

Immigrant rights organizations warn that those named in the EOIR's nearly 32,000 deportation orders are the main target of raids by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that began the first weekend in January.

Due process in danger

Last week the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) warned that the raids, apprehensions and deportations of mainly Central American minors violate due process.

"The administration’s enforcement and deterrence strategies have undermined due process so severely that Central American families and children who are ultimately able to win asylum do so only by overcoming tremendous obstacles created by the very government that is supposed to protect them," concluded an AILA report entitled Due Process Denied: Central Americans Seeking Asylum and Legal Protection in the United States.

The study included recommendations for the government implement reforms to better assist this vulnerable group.

"Immigration authorities are detaining and improperly placing in expedited removal proceedings women with children, unaccompanied children and families fleeing an epidemic of violence in their countries," said AILA president Victor Nieblas.

Nieblas said the apprehensions and deportations affect both unaccompanied minors and women with children, single adults and families who come to the country in search of refuge.

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