Illegal Immigration’s New Normal in America

Lourdes Medrano, Christian Science Monitor, January 25, 2016

Undocumented immigrant families are being detained at the United States border in numbers not seen since 2014, suggesting that the surge in illegal immigration that summer was not an aberration but the establishment of a new normal.

A dramatic rise in the number of unaccompanied children crossing the border in 2014 strained the country’s ability to cope with them legally and humanely. Indeed, a new Associated Press report suggests that the surge taxed the system so severely that some children have been released into abusive homes or trafficked into slavery.

By some measures, US authorities are better prepared for the current influx, with the Department of Health and Human Services using churches and nonprofit groups to take in the rising inflow of migrant children–with plans to open more shelters by April.

But the need appears to be, if anything, greater. Migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, in particular, continue to head north to escape extreme poverty, escalating violence, and crumbling government institutions.

In the last three months of 2015, when illegal border crossings typically drop, the border patrol detained 21,469 Central Americans traveling as a family. That’s nearly triple the 2014 numbers during the same period, according to the latest Border and Customs Protection data. Meanwhile, the number of children traveling alone more than doubled to 17,370.

The new uptick comes after several months of decreasing border detentions, something analysts attribute primarily to a crackdown in Mexico that since 2014 has deported record numbers of Central Americans back to their home countries. But current migration patterns suggest that Central Americans and those who smuggle them across borders are gradually adjusting to Mexico’s strengthened enforcement, finding alternate routes.

Experts don’t expect that to change anytime soon. And so the US is looking to help Central American governments address root problems for the exodus–but it will take time to produce results, says Maureen Meyer, who directs Mexico programs for the Washington Office on Latin America.

“It’s clear we’re going to see high numbers of Central Americans being apprehended at the US-Mexico border and in Mexico for the next few years,” says Ms. Meyer. “The odds are that in the short term, the situation in Central America is not going to change.”

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