WASHINGTON—A U.S. immigration official credited Mexico and Central American countries on Sept. 9 with helping to reduce border detentions 56 percent this year.
Mark Morgan, the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, announced that 64,000 people were detained or turned back at the southwest border in August. That is down 22 percent from July and 56 percent from a high mark in May.
Even so, the total was the highest for the month of August in more than a decade, as Central American migrants have headed north in record numbers, many of them seeking asylum because of widely publicized loopholes in the U.S. asylum system.
A decade ago, migrants were mostly Mexicans, but in recent years, they have been overtaken by Central Americans, mostly from the so-called Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
The Trump administration has been pressuring all of those countries to do more to keep people from reaching the southwest border, threatening Mexico with tariffs unless it complied.
The United States has persuaded Guatemala to become a so-called safe third country that will accept asylum-seekers, reducing the strain on the United States. Washington is working with Honduras on a similar agreement.
Mexico agreed to consider a safe-third-country agreement if its efforts to stem the flow of migrants to the U.S. border fail. Mexico has also agreed to keep Central American asylum-seekers just south of its border with the United States pending their court appointments and has deployed National Guard officers to halt migrants.
“The Northern Triangle countries, specifically, along with the government of Mexico, have really joined the United States as true partners for the first time,” Morgan said.
In June, the United States and Mexico agreed to a 90-day window for Mexico to reduce migrant flows, a period ended last week.
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard is due to meet with U.S. officials on Sept. 10 to discuss Mexico’s efforts, saying last week that Mexico doesn’t expect the United States to threaten tariffs at this time.
While praising Mexico and its southern neighbors, Morgan criticized a U.S. judge who earlier on Sept. 9 ruled that an injunction against a Trump administration rule on asylum-seekers should apply nationwide.
The rule, unveiled on July 15, requires most immigrants who want asylum in the United States to first seek asylum in a third country they had traveled through on their way.
San Francisco-based U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar had previously issued a nationwide injunction blocking the rule, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals narrowed it to only border states within its jurisdiction—California and Arizona—and sent the question back to Tigar.
On Sept. 9, Tigar ruled it should apply across the entire border, pending a trial on the underlying legality of the Trump administration rule.
Morgan criticized the “unprecedented judicial activism,” which he said meant every time the administration came up with a policy to “address this crisis, we end up getting enjoined. It’s very, very frustrating, but we’re just going to keep going.”
By Alexandra Alper in Washington, Mica Rosenberg and Andrew Chung in New York, and Frank Jack Daniel in Mexico City. Epoch Times staff member Ivan Pentchoukov contributed to this report.