WASHINGTON—The number of migrants encountered by U.S. authorities at the southern border has dropped below 100,000 for the first time in five months amid increased collaboration with Mexico and Guatemala to crack down on the flow, according to government data released on Thursday, Aug. 8.
In July, there were 82,049 people encountered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), down 21 percent from June when there were 104,344 people and down 43 percent from May. The number of family units and unaccompanied minors crossing the border also dropped.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan traveled to border town—Yuma, Arizona—on Thursday to detail the border numbers. He said that in mid-June there were more than 1,250 children in custody for 72 hours or longer—but that had dropped to about 160 children by Wednesday, with an average custody time of fewer than 24 hours.
There had been about 10,000 families in custody; now there are 2,000 and they are held about 34 hours, he said. Single adults are down from 8,000 to about 2,000 in custody.
Seasonal declines in border crossings are common; fewer people make the dangerous journey when it’s so hot. But McAleenan said the May-to-July drop was much steeper than the same time last year.
He stressed it did not mean the crisis had ended.
“The situation is improving by every available metric, but, and I want to be very clear about this, we remain at and beyond crisis levels,” McAleenan said.
Guatemalan officials recently agreed to what’s known as a “safe third country” pact with the United States, meaning anyone coming through that country from El Salvador or Honduras would not be able to claim asylum in the United States. The agreement was made even as Guatemalan courts blocked the effort. U.S. officials believe it will be in effect by the end of the month.
The Trump administration also sought to effectively end asylum protections at the southern border, though that effort was blocked temporarily by U.S. courts.
In June, after Trump threatened tariffs on Mexico, leaders there agreed to expand the administration’s program, which makes migrants wait on the Mexican side of the border until their immigration hearings. Mexican police, soldiers, and National Guard forces are rounding up Central Americans hotels, buses, and trains to round up Central American migrants before they can make it to the border. And they are busing them from the Texas border hundreds of miles to inland towns.
While July’s border numbers are below the peak of earlier this year, they are still high compared to recent history. Until this March, July’s total would have been the highest number in at least the last six years, spanning multiple previous surges of adults and children illegally crossing into the United States.
By Colleen Long