The number of migrants arriving at the United States’ southern border with Mexico rose slightly during the month of April compared with the previous month, according to the latest official figures, while the number of children travelling alone to the US decreased.
Statistics released late on Tuesday by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) showed that US officials apprehended 178,622 migrants at the border last month – a three percent increase from March.
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The number of unaccompanied children also dropped by 12 percent in April, according to CBP, going from 15,918 in March to 13,962.
A surge in arrivals of migrants and asylum seekers at the US southern border has posed a challenge for President Joe Biden, who has promised to implement more “humane” measures to address migration flows.
While Biden has reversed some key anti-immigration policies put in place by his predecessor Donald Trump, his administration has faced accusations from Republicans that its more lenient policies have encouraged more migrants to come.
According to the CBP figures, the majority of the migrants who arrived in April – 111,714 people – were expelled under Title 42, a health order put in place last year that cited the COVID-19 pandemic to allow for the immediate expulsion of asylum seekers back to Mexico.
Biden has exempted unaccompanied minors from expulsion under Title 42, arguing that children travelling alone are vulnerable and that sending them back to Mexico or to their home countries would endanger them.
Some families travelling with small children have also been released into the US while their claims are being processed.
Nevertheless, Biden has also faced scrutiny over the conditions migrant children face in border facilities, after pictures surfaced showing crowded facilities with children sleeping on thin mattresses on the floor.
Administration officials say progress has been made and that the amount of time children are held in CBP custody has been slashed.
According to the latest figures, an average of 2,895 children were held in CBP custody daily in April, down from 4,109 the month before. In March, unaccompanied children spent an average of 115 hours in custody, while in April children were held an average of 28 hours.
Health and Human Services, a US government department that processes unaccompanied migrant children in the country, said it has expanded its housing capacity and opened additional emergency intake sites in order to reduce crowding.
The vast majority of migrants come from the so-called Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – three Central American nations that battle persistent poverty, corruption and gang violence.
More recently, these countries have been hit hard by economic downturns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and from multiple hurricanes that have devastated large swaths of the region.
Biden has promised to help address those problems, which he says are the “root causes” of migration. He pledged to fund $4bn in projects to improve the lives of people and discourage them from migrating. He also named Vice President Kamala Harris to lead this effort.
US Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas is scheduled to address the issue of unaccompanied minors at the southern border in a Senate Committee meeting on Thursday.