Border Patrol apprehensions along southern border fall for first time in 2019

Alan Gomez and Lauren Courcy Villagran

The number of migrants detained crossing the southwest border dropped sharply in June, ending what had been a record-setting stretch of Central American families entering the U.S. throughout 2019, according to Border Patrol data released Tuesday.

The overall number of illegal crossings, and the number of families making the trek, had increased each month since January, peaking at 144,278 people in May caught illegally crossing the border and presenting themselves at ports of entry without a visa. That number fell to 104,344 in June, a 28% drop from the previous month, and it represents the first sign the flow of migrants is finally slowing.

It's unclear what led to the slowdown. Border crossings traditionally drop in the summer months as soaring temperatures throughout Mexico and the American Southwest make it more difficult for migrants to make the journey.

The Trump administration, however, credits its escalating series of threats and new policies for the slowdown. That includes the deployment of the National Guard and active-duty military personnel to the border and the implementation of a "Remain in Mexico" policy that has forced asylum-seeking Central Americans to return to Mexico after submitting their asylum application.

"These initiatives are making an impact," the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement Tuesday.

A U.S. Border Patrol agent speaks to immigrants after taking them into custody on July 02, 2019, in Los Ebanos, Texas. Hundreds of immigrants, most from Central America, turned themselves in to border agents after rafting across the Rio Grande from Mexico to seek asylum in the United States.

The administration also credits an agreement that prompted the Mexican government to deploy its own National Guard to its southern border to stop migrants from entering the country, and to its northern border to control the ever-growing crowds of migrants massing there as they try to request asylum at U.S. ports of entry.

In Yuma, Arizona, crossings were down significantly in June, which Border Patrol Sector Chief Anthony Porvaznik attributes to Mexico’s increased law enforcement presence along both its borders and checkpoints the government has established along its main highways.

"We think that’s probably due to the increased enforcement posture in Mexico, which has diverted traffic or at least stalled traffic coming up to this area," Porvaznik said recently.

In its statement, Homeland Security said the slowdown in migrants entering the country should help the department get a better handle on "capacity challenges" it has experienced in recent months.

The agency has come under intense criticism in a series of blistering reports – from internal government watchdogs and outside groups – for the conditions that many migrants are experiencing in Border Patrol facilities. That situation has become so troubling that Congress passed a $4.6 billion package last month to improve conditions at adult and minor detention facilities for migrants.

In late June, the agency opened a 500-bed tent complex in Yuma, Arizona, to ease overcrowding in facilities there. The agency had already opened similar tent facilities in El Paso, Texas, and eastern Texas, and it plans to build more if the number of migrant families remains high.

The fluctuation in crossing patterns can make things complicated for small border communities that have rushed to the aid of the migrant families.

Ray Trejo helped set up a shelter in an old armory in Deming, New Mexico, that a few weeks ago was hosting hundreds of migrants daily.

"We’ve seen a decline in numbers in the last week to 10 days," Trejo said. "We were preparing for meals at around 400 a day, and then it went down to 250, and now we’re down to 100."

He added: "We’re on standby at this point. I feel like the numbers are going to come up. Everybody I talk to says this is the calm before the storm."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Border Patrol apprehensions along southern border fall for first time in 2019