A report by the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency says this year's influx of Central American migrants has begun to decline, but it calls on Congress for support in keeping the crisis in check.
Department of Homeland Security data presented in the report shows that the number of unaccompanied minors attempting to cross the border was higher at the start of the 2014 fiscal year than it ever had been and that those numbers drastically increased from January through May of this year.
But after plateauing in June, the numbers began to steadily decline. The number of unaccompanied minors attempting to cross the border this August was in fact smaller than the number last August, marking the first time this year in which the number of attempted crossings was lower than in the corresponding 2013 month.
"Our border has been and remains more secure than it has been in decades," writes Gil Kerlikowske, the Commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency and author of the report.
Kerlikowske attributes the decline in unaccompanied-minor crossings to a concentrated effort by his agency. "Stepped up deterrence, enhanced enforcement, stronger foreign cooperation, and greater capacity for affected Federal agencies to ensure that our border remained secure" each contributed to the decline, he says.
His report also references data from the Pew Research Center showing that illegal immigration on the whole has in fact leveled off, with no real increase in the number of unauthorized crossings since 2007.
Kerlikowske points to the Department of Homeland's Security's ramped-up strength: more Border Patrol agents, plus a doubling of fences, unmanned aircraft systems, and ground-surveillance systems. "Taken as a whole, the additional manpower, technology, and resources provided in the last six years represent the most serious and sustained action to secure our border in our nation's history," he says.
But David Inserra, a research associate at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank, offers another explanation. "We've seen that the number of folks coming across the border has been relatively low across several years, but that also corresponded with a weak economy," he says. "The economic rationale is not there."
"Are we prepared for when the U.S. economy does recover?" he asks.
Inserra says what really needs to be examined is whether existing immigration laws are being utilized: "We agree that the current system is broken, but we would simply say that one of the main reasons that the immigration system is broken is because of the way President Obama is enforcing the laws."
He points to a significant decrease in the number of deportations.
Kerlikowske's report draws attention not to enforcement, but to money. He openly criticizes Congress for failing to authorize additional funding to handle the influx of migrants from Central America, claiming that the shortage of funding forced the Department of Homeland Security to shift resources away from lower priority areas and toward border crisis zones.
Kerlikowske points to two effective, but costly, measures that were used to curb the crisis: increased Border Patrol staffing and the Obama Administration's partnership with Central American leaders, which included this summer's "aggressive Spanish language outreach effort."
Inserra appreciates the value of that effort, an international media blitz called the "Dangers Awareness Campaign," which warned potential migrants and their U.S.-based family members that crossing is dangerous and amnesty is not a guarantee. But Inserra says that campaign sent mixed signals.
"Some of the president's actions, like DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, are making people who don't understand the intricacies of our immigration law simply see people being allowed to stay illegally, encouraging them come," he says.
Inserra would like to see an end to DACA, stronger enforcement, and more action from the executive branch before Congress is called on to push for reform.
But Kerlikowske wants to see Congress make changes now. "We continue to work with Congress on comprehensive immigration reform," he says, "and we remain committed to effective enforcement that prioritizes our national security, border security, and public safety."
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