A wave of Central American undocumented families and unaccompanied children arriving at the southwestern U.S. border rose significantly late last year, according to data released on Tuesday by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Despite efforts by the Obama administration to discourage the migration, youth traveling without relatives, as well as families migrating together, increasingly fled from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras amid gang-violence, ailing economies and high murder rates.
Meanwhile, U.S. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid on Tuesday told reporters he hoped a new administration initiative targeting Central American families for deportations, which many immigration groups see as a message to Central Americans to stay home, would be suspended.
A total of 5,783 undocumented unaccompanied children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras showed up in December. For last October and November combined, the figure was 8,480, according to CBP statistics.
Total unaccompanied children, including Mexicans, during Oct. 1-Dec. 31, 2015, the first three months of fiscal 2016, were up 117 percent from the same period the previous year. All but 3,107 came from the three Central American countries.
In addition, for the first three months of fiscal 2016, 21,469 family units have been apprehended at the southwestern U.S. border, a 187 percent increase from the same period a year ago.
This spike, reminiscent of a flood of Central American migrants in 2014, has the Obama administration scrambling to again turn back the tide.
In recent days, U.S. immigration agents have targeted undocumented Central American families for deportation, with 121 detentions since Jan. 1, angering Democratic lawmakers.
They fear deporting Central American families will send them back to their homelands to again face violent crime. They also argue the migrants may not have had adequate legal advice in asylum proceedings.
Reid, who leads the Senate's minority party, told reporters he spoke on Tuesday with Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.
"I think you are going to find a pause in these deportations," Reid said. He did not offer details.
Last year, U.S. authorities began preparing their first large-scale effort to deport undocumented families who entered the United States since May 2014. More than 10,000 people could be subject to deportation under the initiative, according to new figures from the Justice Department's Executive Office for Immigration Review.
The effort marked a shift in approach to deportations, from targeting individuals to undocumented families.
Representative Luis Gutierrez of Illinois said in a statement that 146 of the House's 188 Democrats had so far signed a letter urging Obama to halt the deportations.