WASHINGTON — Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said Friday that it appears there will be a 25% decrease in June in numbers of migrants crossing at the US-Mexico border.
More than 144,000 migrants had been encountered or arrested at the US-Mexico border in May, the highest monthly total in 13 years.
McAleenan credited Trump administration initiatives, especially the increase in interdictions by Mexico over the past three weeks and the return of some asylum seekers to Mexico for the duration of their immigration proceeds, a program McAleenan says is being expanded.
That program, however, is being fought in court, including by a union representing asylum officers which opposes the initiative.
A dip in border crossings is common during the hot summer months, though McAleenan downplayed the role of seasonal trends in migration, saying that he expects to be able to tell by late July if these initiatives will have a sustained impact.
Over recent months, there’s been a dramatic spike in apprehensions at the southern border, particularly of families and unaccompanied minors — overwhelming the administration and prompting a request for emergency funding to the border.
On Thursday, the House passed a $4.6 billion Senate bill to send emergency funding to the border, a vote that triggered outrage from progressives who objected to the legislation and an outpouring of emotion on the House floor. The measure, which passed 305-102, will next go to the White House for President Donald Trump’s signature.
McAleenan lauded the Hill’s bipartisan passage of the funding bill which he said he hopes the President will sign next week.
The measure comes against the backdrop of media reports of perilous conditions at border facilities. A team of doctors, lawyers and advocates warned of what they said were major health and hygiene problems at several US Customs and Border Protection facilities in Texas, including a station in Clint.
McAleenan reiterated Friday that he has warned of overcrowding in border facilities for months, but also pushed back strongly on what he termed “unsubstantiated” reports about the Clint, Texas, facility where he says children are receiving supplies such as blankets and toothbrushes, despite claims to the contrary.
The lawyers have since asked a federal judge to hold the Trump administration in contempt and to order immediate improvements to conditions at Customs and Border Protection facilities where children are being held.
Spotlighting the risks and tragedy on the border, McAleenan said the young girl who drowned beside her father trying to cross the Rio Grande River into the US was the fourth child to die attempting to cross in the past week.
The “situation should not be acceptable to any of us,” he said.
A lull for nonprofit shelters too
In the Rio Grande Valley sector of Texas, the busiest region for migrant arrests on the southern border, those running nearby nonprofit shelters have seen a lull over the past week, but weren’t sure it would last.
The Salvation Army of McAllen/Hidalgo County serves as an overflow facility to house and feed migrants when the primary nonprofit shelters in the region are full.
“Last week we had an overflow,” said Maggie Pena, business operations manager. “But the numbers have decreased this week.”
She said what the migrants need the most when they arrive, is a hot meal and shower, and “somebody to understand,” added Alvin J. Migues, regional emergency disaster services director.
On Tuesday, 11 migrants were brought to Good Neighbor Settlement House, which serves as the primary overnight shelter in Brownsville, Texas, for migrants who are released from government custody before they travel to their destinations throughout the US, said Marianela Ramirez-Watson, the Refugee Respite Program.
That’s much fewer than the 60 to 90 people a day the small facility has been receiving.
On Wednesday, when CNN visited the shelter, a couple and their 3-year-old daughter Ariceli were inside, a few hours before they were destined to travel to South Carolina.
“We are hoping to give her a better life,” her father said in Spanish. “And get good medical treatment.”
Ariceli’s parents, who had fled El Salvador in fear of a gang initiation a few years ago, were living and working in Mexico, but crossed the Rio Grande earlier this week seeking better medical care for their daughter. The toddler, who couldn’t hold herself up, had microcephaly, stemming from a Zika infection her mother had during pregnancy.
The “happy ending” isn’t at the shelter, but “when they leave us and go with family,” said Ramirez-Watson.