More than 19,000 children have entered the U.S. illegally in the past year, at least half of them between October and March — nearly four times the number that crossed the border in the same period in 2017.
Of the newly illegal border crossings in the first quarter of 2018, 7,176 children were flown into the U.S. from Central America on military aircraft, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s fiscal year 2018 budget request. Another 13,689 people from that country crossed the border without documentation.
They included 5,356 unaccompanied minors.
The increase comes as news of shrinking border crossings last year raised concern that illegal immigration across the U.S.-Mexico border was slowing dramatically in 2017.
Meanwhile, President Trump has repeatedly emphasized the surge in new border crossings from Mexico this year as a sign of the “unbelievable crisis” at the southern border. U.S. Customs and Border Protection says that, despite the summer months, both families and unaccompanied minors have surged at the southern border this year.
As of June 30, 2,079 families arrived at the border in fiscal year 2018. About 12,900 families and unaccompanied minors arrived between October and March, up from 3,874 the same time period in fiscal year 2017.
Immigration advocacy groups say one reason for the surge in numbers of new border crossers is a budget cut in funding for the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
That agency, which helps abused, neglected or abandoned minors who cross the border, saw its funding cut by almost $20 million in fiscal year 2018. The total budget for the program, which supports more than 2,500 children per year, was cut by nearly $38 million in fiscal year 2018.
Under the Obama administration, the federal government’s refugee programs were under pressure. In July 2011, a young girl named Eliana Hernandez was found stabbed to death inside a “Mexican family” shelter run by the U.S. government. Hernandez had entered the U.S. illegally. As the AP reported at the time, an audit showed that 1,238 unaccompanied minors aged 12 to 17 had run away or been lost.
Instead of funding refugee programs, the budget proposal approved last month by the Senate Appropriations Committee — which includes $500 million for Customs and Border Protection, nearly $190 million for Immigration and Customs Enforcement and more than $200 million for the Office of Refugee Resettlement — contained an amendment to defund refugee programs altogether.
The provision would end the U.S. program that sends migrant children to foster care in the United States. It would also fund the Trump administration’s border wall.
Marianela Jimenez, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said a transition to funding the refugee program based on fiscal year 2018 results would “harm vulnerable children in the U.S. and send the wrong message to would-be smugglers and traffickers who could continue to exploit their kindness toward children as a cover to bring them to the United States.”
Senate Democrats said the president’s decision to use the budget as a shield to funnel federal funds to his proposed border wall could put children at risk.
“This is dangerous and shortsighted,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the chairman of the Senate appropriations committee. “The lack of resources for the Department of Health and Human Services’ refugee programs are already undermining the quality of care and safety for these families.”
“The fact is,” he said, “most U.S. citizens have clear views about how they would like to see their taxpayer dollars spent.”
U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, called the Trump administration’s funding proposal “blatantly irresponsible and callous.”
“The proposed cuts to refugee and asylum programs pose more than a potential threat to innocent children who are forced to flee their homes,” Thompson said. “They pose a threat to all of us, for they jeopardize American resources that help to ensure those who come here seeking refuge are safe once they do.”
Immigration advocates said there could be other causes of the surge in border crossers than funding cuts. They include the spread of violence from Central America caused by gangs, such as MS-13, in the region and the arrival of unaccompanied children who fled gang violence or poverty.
“Obviously this speaks to other factors, like the violence in Central America,” said Erika Almiron, executive director of the Jóvenes Unidos por la Causa, a pro-immigrant advocacy group in New York. “But there are resources that the government has