After a dramatic drop early last year, the number of Central American children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally has been rising sharply since April, Stateline reports. Advocates say the increase is being driven by fears of gang violence at home — fears that outweigh heightened concerns about deportation under the Trump administration. “The reality is these children are not necessarily coming to the U.S., they’re just trying to get away from their home country,” said Catherine Hulme of the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland in Baltimore. During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump promised to crack down on illegal immigration. Early in his administration, officials threatened to prosecute parents seeking to bring children from Central America.
The number of children crossing the southwest border appears to reflect that. Fewer than a thousand children were caught alone at the border in April, down from 7,346 in November 2016. Their numbers have been increasing recently, surpassing 4,000 in December. The number of family groups including children has increased even faster, growing from 1,118 in April to 8,121 in December. The vast majority of the arriving children — almost three-quarters of children caught alone and more than 95 percent of those caught with family — are from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Children arriving alone from Central America cannot be immediately deported. They usually are turned over to the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement and live temporarily in a shelter, while their family or other sponsor can apply to gain custody of them. Brian Hastings, the Border Patrol’s acting chief of operations, blamed the increase on a federal law that forces the agency to allow Central American children into the country rather than deporting them. “We are creating a draw for people,” Hastings said, adding that the agency is drafting legislation that would address the issue.