U.S. officials are grappling with a 15 percent surge in illegal immigration, reflecting continued failures by the Obama administration to deter illegal immigration along the country’s southwestern border.
Homeland Security officials apprehended 530,250 illegal immigrants and sent 450,954 people back to their home countries over the 12-month period that ended in September, according to figures released Friday by the Department of Homeland Security.
The majority of those apprehended come from Central American countries and include 137,614 families and unaccompanied children, part of an ongoing flight from high crime and violence in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, which human rights advocates have urged the administration to treat as a refugee crisis.
The number of families and children in the past year also exceeded figures from 2015 and 2014, when illegal immigrants from Central America overwhelmed U.S. Border Patrol stations at the Mexican border and President Obama called the flow of children an “urgent humanitarian situation.”
Administration officials said Friday that the latest “removal” figures reflect a concerted policy shift to target convicted criminals over others.
“We continued to better focus our interior resources on removing individuals who may pose threats to public safety — specifically, convicted criminals and threats to national security,” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement. “This prioritization is reflected in actual results.” More than 99 percent of those forcibly removed from the country over the most recent 12-month period fell into the administration’s three priority categories.
Overall deportations have dropped over the past few years, from a peak of more than 400,000 during Obama’s first term.
Immigration human rights advocates, including J. Kevin Appleby, the senior director of international migration policy at the Center for Migration Studies, say the priorities were a good move — probably resulting in fewer deportations overall — but have come too late.