Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal
SUNLAND PARK – The number of people caught crossing the southwest border is at its lowest point in more than four decades. But there has been a spike in Central American families with kids arriving on the stretch of border that includes New Mexico.
Year-end figures released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection show that the El Paso Border Patrol sector, which includes all of New Mexico, saw a 52 percent increase in the number of “family units” from 5,664 in 2016 to 8,609 this past year.
“This is a mini-surge” said Ruben Garcia, director of Annunciation House, which provides temporary shelter for migrants and refugees in the El Paso and Las Cruces region. The organization often takes in parents with children released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE in the area because they don’t have detention space designed for families.
Garcia said there was a drop in the number of migrants arriving right after President Trump’s inauguration.
“What I think happened is we entered a wait and see period,” said Garcia. But in recent months Central Americans have started to cross the border again in the region. “There has been a steady climb” Garcia said.
An additional 6,889 families with children arrived at border crossings or international bridges in the region seeking asylum, an increase of 23 percent. Most are from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
In recent years, the vast majority of Central American families and children arrived in South Texas in the Rio Grande Valley.
“One of the factors that makes people think of crossing further away from the Valley is it’s further away from the detention centers,” said Garcia. The main detention center built to house families is located near San Antonio. Instead of paying to transport parents with children, ICE often releases them and requires adults to wear ankle monitoring devices and check in as their cases move through immigration court.
The uptick in Central American migration to New Mexico and far West Texas is in sharp contrast to the decline in undocumented immigration overall with CBP reporting a total of 303,916 people apprehended this past year on the southwest border. Border Patrol agents picked up 15,562 people in New Mexico, more than half of the total 25,193 people apprehended in the El Paso sector.
“We have seen historic low numbers this year – an almost 30 percent decline in apprehensions in fiscal year 2017, but we are very concerned about the later month increases of unaccompanied minors and minors with a family member said Acting Deputy CBP Commissioner Ronald Vitiello at a news conference Wednesday in Washington D.C.
Immigrant advocates who help Central American families and other refugees arriving on the border say enforcement alone won’t keep people fleeing violence and poverty from trying to cross the border.
“A lot of people are desperate and this is the only way they see as a way out for themselves,” said Garcia.