Aug. 1 (Bloomberg) -- The surge in unaccompanied children crossing the southern U.S. border eased in July, even as Congress and the White House failed to agree over how to resolve an issue that both Republicans and Democrats call a crisis.
The number of youths entering U.S. custody without an adult relative fell by half last month to 5,305 from a peak of 10,483 in June, according to Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesman for the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. The agency, part of the Department of Health & Human Services, takes custody of most such children soon after they are apprehended. Prior to March 2012, ORR took custody of fewer than 1,000 child migrants a month.
More than 57,000 children, most from Central America, have been caught crossing the border since October, overwhelming a system of shelters, courts and social-service agencies created to handle a fraction of that volume. While the Republican-controlled House late today passed $694 million in emergency funding, it will need approval from the Senate, which has adjourned until September.
The wave of migrants prompted officials from Washington to Central America to look for solutions. President Barack Obama met with the presidents of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala last week as the U.S. bolstered outreach programs in Mexico and neighboring nations to discourage families from sending their children northward. Texas Governor Rick Perry ordered 1,000 National Guard troops to help secure the border, augmenting about 10,000 federal agents.
Most of the unescorted children are fleeing violence, poverty and gang conscription. While the majority of those caught are teenagers, the greatest increase was among children younger than 12 years old, according to the Pew Research Center. About 85 percent of those detained in shelters are sent to live with family members and other sponsors while immigration judges weigh whether they can remain, a process that can take more than a year.
Congressional Republicans attribute the immigrant deluge to lax U.S. immigration policy. The House voted today to expedite deportations by changing a 2008 law, intended to combat sex trafficking, that allows children from other than Mexico and Canada to plead their case for staying before a judge.
Obama has called the Republican-backed legislation “extreme and unworkable.”
When child arrivals rose sharply in May and June, U.S. officials projected that as many as 90,000 could reach the border by the end of the fiscal year in September. The July data suggests otherwise.
Honduran officials yesterday said the flow of unaccompanied children from their country had declined 75 percent, without giving more details.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said July 21 that the daily volume of child arrivals had begun to fall. Officials attributed part of the decline to government efforts to discourage the migration, while saying that numbers typically drop during the hot summer months.
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