McALLEN, Texas (AP) — Fewer unaccompanied immigrant children are crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, allowing the federal government to close the temporary shelters that it hurriedly opened to handle the surge, authorities say.
The Department of Homeland Security released data Thursday showing that about 5,500 unaccompanied children were arrested in July, barely half the number in May and June and the fewest children arrested in a month since February. Similarly, arrests of parents with children dropped by more than half last month, to just over 7,400.
Arrests in Texas have fallen in recent weeks to about 100 per day, down from 300 or more in June, according to the Border Patrol. The decline could be the result of hot summer temperatures or a messaging campaign in both the U.S. and the migrants' Central American home countries that stresses the dangers of the journey and warns them they will not be allowed to stay.
Officials on the border are careful not to suggest that the crisis has passed. When temperatures drop, they say, children from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador could be back in greater numbers.
The slowdown seems likely to reduce the urgency for Congress to act on immigration reform after adjourning last week for a five-week holiday without a deal to give President Barack Obama any of the money he's asked for to handle the influx.
The falling numbers could cause the border crisis to recede from public view, offering Obama room to curb deportations for other segments of the immigrant population, a step he's indicated he plans to take later this year.
This week, the federal agency charged with housing the children announced it would soon suspend operations at three temporary shelters with a total of about 3,000 beds. Government officials said the existing network of federally contracted shelters would suffice, at least for now.
More than 57,000 unaccompanied children entered the U.S. illegally from October to June, more than double the number from the same period a year earlier. Another 55,000 families — mothers or fathers with young children — were arrested during that period.
Total apprehensions — adults and juveniles — in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas were 24,500 in July. That was down from about 38,000 in June but still well above the 15,000 in July 2013, according to the Border Patrol.
The state-run children's shelter in Reynosa, Mexico, just across the border from Texas, has not received a Central American child yet in August, said coordinator Jose Guadalupe Villegas Garcia. The shelter had been receiving 10 to 12 kids from those countries per week in early July, he said.
At the nearby Senda de Vida shelter, Eneyda Alvarez watched her 8-year-old son, Antony, kick a soccer ball around the courtyard. Scars from where her husband viciously beat her with a cable showed like stripes on her skin.
She says she cannot return to Honduras because her husband could kill her.
When she left Honduras in late July, she was under the impression the Border Patrol was still releasing mothers traveling with young children.
Hector Joaquin Silva de Luna, a pastor who runs the shelter, said it's been two weeks since any unaccompanied children arrived, but the number of families at the shelter has held steady at 16 to 23 per week. He said many have heard the message from U.S. authorities that they will be deported. A delegation of U.S. officials visited the shelter Sunday.
Ingrid Bran had not heard about the U.S. beginning to detain mothers and children until she arrived at the border. She left the Paraiso department on Honduras' border with Nicaragua a month ago because she couldn't find work cultivating chiles or coffee to support her two children.
"A friend told me to turn myself over to immigration" authorities, Bran said, as her 7-year-old son played with Alvarez's boy. But after arriving at the border, she was told that the previous practices had ended.
Associated Press writers Alicia A. Caldwell and Erica Werner in Washington contributed to this report.
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