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Child border crossings into US seen dropping: official

Mexico territory

Mexico territory

The number of unaccompanied minors detained while crossing from Mexico into the United States has dropped by half since a surge of such immigration last year, US officials told Congress Tuesday.

The plunge in child figures comes amid a 34 percent reduction in overall border detentions in the first eight months of fiscal year 2015, according to Philip Miller, an assistant director at Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the US Department of Homeland Security.

While 46,858 unaccompanied children were detained crossing the southwest border during the period last year, that number shrank to 22,869 in fiscal 2015, a drop of 51 percent, according to Customs and Border Protection data.

The surge of unaccompanied teenagers and other children, many of whom were considered for special asylum status as victims of trafficking, in recent years had provoked a swirling US political crisis.

Republicans accused President Barack Obama of poorly policing the border or enforcing immigration laws, while liberal Democrats lashed him over detention conditions and inadequate housing for minors.

“To be clear, the humanitarian influx is a seasonal challenge and we are still in the season when the influx occurred last year,” Miller testified before a Senate homeland security panel.

“Nevertheless, I am confident that we will not see a repeat of last year’s unprecedented numbers this year.”

– Elaborate human trafficking network –

US border officials were overwhelmed by a wave of illegal immigration in 2014, particularly of unaccompanied minors from three Central American nations: El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

An elaborate and dangerous human smuggling network has trafficked thousands of youths through Mexico.

Once they crossed into the United States, many openly allowed themselves to be detained by authorities, beginning what often turned into a lengthy asylum process.

Two thirds of apprehended unaccompanied minors were from Central America.

While some were sent northward to join relatives already in the United States or to seek economic opportunities there, many fled escalating violence in Central America, including street gangs and drug cartels.

More than 18,000 Honduran children were detained entering the United States in fiscal 2014, but only 2,500 have been arrested so far this year, official figures show.

The decline at least in part is attributable to Washington “improving foreign government cooperation, increasing border security, and providing assistance to governments in Central American countries to curb the flow of unaccompanied children,” said Mark Greenberg, acting assistant secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The US has boosted assistance to Central American nations, including through information campaigns discouraging parents from sending children northward.

The issue remains a political hot potato, with Republicans arguing that clandestine immigration has soared since 2012, when Obama began efforts to legalize millions of immigrants living in the shadows.

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