The U.S. border is “more secure than it has ever been before,” Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said Tuesday while speaking on the federal government’s response to the surge in minors crossing the country’s southern border unaccompanied.
Mayorkas, addressing a crowd at the National Press Club in Washington, said that though the number of children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border has decreased from the 300-per-day that were seen at the peak of the ongoing crisis, he would not declare the problem itself solved.
“It would be premature at best to declare a victory and say the past is behind us because we don’t know,” Mayorkas said. “What we have achieved is tremendous progress.”
More than 66,000 kids have crossed the southern U.S. border without their parents or guardians between October 2013 and the end of August, most starting from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala and making the final leg over the U.S. border in the Rio Grande Valley area. However, the number of youths making the trip has decreased dramatically in the late summer from the peak in May and June — in August, unaccompanied minor border crossings were at their lowest point since February 2013, with just over 3,100 kids apprehended that month.
Mayorkas credited that decline to various steps the U.S. government has taken to address the crisis, including expediting the processing of children apprehended at the border and working with the governments of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala to keep kids from coming in the first place.
The issues at the border, however, are likely far from over. There have been allegations of abuse and substandard living conditions at some immigration detention centers, for example. And though the administration set aside $2 million to provide legal representation for immigrant minors, advocates say many of them still lack counsel. Immigrants do not have a legal right to a lawyer, but advocates say legal representation would help ease the strain on the courts which the influx of minors creates. And though the number of children crossing the border dropped in the hot summer months, there is a possibility for an uptick in crossings as temperatures cool down.