Unaccompanied Minors at the Southwest Border

Written by Wendy Barlow on

Wendy Barlow's picture

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) recently released statistics regarding the apprehension of unaccompanied alien children or unaccompanied minors during Fiscal Year 2015. You can find these statistics and other information about the apprehension of unaccompanied minors at www.cbp.gov or see PDF version. An unaccompanied alien child is a child who has no lawful immigration status in the United States, has not reached the age of 18, and has no parent or legal guardian in the United States who can provide care and physical custody. According to an article titled “Southwest Border Unaccompanied Alien Children”, CBP saw an overall increase in the number of apprehensions of unaccompanied minor children from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico beginning last year and through the last few months. Unaccompanied minors present unique challenges to CBP and the Department of Health and Human Services as government agencies must coordinate to provide relief and proper care to these children.

CBP apprehended over 68,000 unaccompanied minors in Fiscal Year 2014. The number of apprehensions decreased during Fiscal Year 2015, but was still a staggering 39,970 apprehensions of unaccompanied alien children. Over the past two fiscal years more than 100,000 unaccompanied alien children from across Central America have been apprehended by CBP along the southwest border. These unaccompanied minors have fled their home countries in search of refuge from increasing gang and drug-related violence and economic opportunities. Many unaccompanied alien children are under the mistaken impression that if they simply make it to the United States they will be allowed to remain permanently. This massive influx of unaccompanied minors has only served to create further backlog in already overburdened asylum offices and immigration courts.

The decrease in the number of unaccompanied minors apprehended by CBP entering the United States during Fiscal Year 2015 is partially the result of Mexican officials stepping up enforcement at its southern border. Mexico has apprehended more unaccompanied children at its southern border and deported them to their native countries. Mexican officials have also sought to reduce the number of migrants riding “La Bestia” or the “train of death”, which is used by many individuals to enter Mexico on their way to the United States. In addition, governments in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have engaged in widespread public awareness campaigns to dispel the myth that if unaccompanied alien children reach the United States they will be able to stay permanently. While there has been a decrease in the number of unaccompanied minors apprehended by CBP during the last fiscal year, gang and drug-related violence remains endemic in Central America.