PHOENIX (AP) – There won't be nearly as many immigrant children who cross the border on their own this summer as there were last year, top officials say.
Daniel Ragsdale, deputy director for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said authorities expect far fewer migrant children and families than the influx last year that gained worldwide attention and left Border Patrol agents unable to process so many people.
"I'm happy to say all the work we've done last year is bearing fruit," Ragsdale said.
Ronald D. Vitiello, the Border Patrol's deputy chief, agreed. "This year is far better off than last year," he said.
Vitiello and Ragsdale made the remarks Wednesday at the Border Security Expo in Phoenix.
Authorities were overwhelmed last year with an influx of unaccompanied minors and families with children last year. More than 68,000 youths from mostly Central America crossed the border without a parent last fiscal year.
But the numbers have tapered off, and authorities expect fewer migrants this summer.
Immigrant advocates have been critical of the government's response, saying most of the children were fleeing extreme violence and threats and should have been granted asylum. "The federal government's response to the large influx of Central American children coming in has been nothing short of a policy that undermines our basic humanitarian and asylum laws," said Greg Chen, director of advocacy for the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
A study released by the non-partisan, nonprofit Migration Policy Institute found increased enforcement by the governments of the U.S., Mexico and some Central American countries has slowed the influx. For example, Mexican authorities apprehended 22,000 Central American children in the first 11 months of 2014. That's almost three times as many as in all of 2013.
Mexican authorities deported 18,000 Central American children last year, compared with 7,000 the year before.
The United States also stepped up enforcement, sending more Border Patrol agents to south Texas, where the vast majority of children and families crossed. The government began detaining families seeking asylum and opened several facilities for detaining families with children, some temporary. A federal judge in February issued a preliminary injunction against the policy of detaining families who seek asylum.