McALLEN, Texas (AP) — The foreign minister of Honduras said Tuesday on a visit to the Texas-Mexico border that she was pleased to see the flow of unaccompanied child immigrants has slowed after efforts in her country to dissuade citizens from embarking on the dangerous journey to the United States.
There is no clear explanation for the drop, which could be attributed to a number of factors including seasonal variation, increased border enforcement and an international messaging campaign, but the number of unaccompanied children arrested in July was about half of those in the previous two months.
"We have sent a strong message to the families and others for the children to stay at home and not take that horrific journey," said Foreign Minister Mireya Aguero de Corrales in McAllen.
Honduras and its neighbors, Guatemala and El Salvador, have all been ravaged by gang violence and face intense poverty. Aguero said their geography, square between drug producers and drug consumers, has forced them to divert much needed resources from health and education programs to security.
Aguero, who was visiting with U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Laredo Democrat, said the U.S. needs to develop an aid program for those countries that went beyond security cooperation to address issues tied to poverty.
Honduras has stepped up programs aimed at helping those deported from the U.S. to reintegrate at home. They receive preferential treatment in finding homes, jobs and returning to school, she said.
From October to July, about 63,000 unaccompanied children were arrested after entering the U.S. illegally, double the number from the same period a year earlier. Another 63,000 families — mothers or fathers with young children — were arrested during that period.
Those arrests have slowed, however. Arrests of children traveling alone and children and parents traveling together dropped by about half in July from the previous month.
The number of Honduran children entering the U.S. illegally without a parent or guardian soared this year. With two months to go in the fiscal year, more than 17,500 Honduran children had been arrested after arriving alone by the end of July. For all of the previous fiscal year there were 6,747, which was already a significant jump from fewer than 3,000 in 2012.
Honduras has the world's highest homicide rate for a nation that is not at war. Drug trafficking and pervasive gang violence have led thousands of families to decide the dangerous journey north is a better option than staying put.
Many who leave sell all of their belongings, sometimes giving up their homes, to pay for the trip.
Women with young children sent back to San Pedro Sula last month were given a day's worth of groceries, water and about $25 in the local currency.
Aguero said they also register with the government's social services agency and another government agency focused on young children to qualify for additional support.
The goal is that migration goes back to being an option rather than a necessity, Aguero said. The hope is "to dissuade them, to break the vicious cycle," she said.
"Essentially, many get off the bus returning (deported) from Mexico and leave again," Aguero said. "That's why this comprehensive approach to the root causes is important."