WASHINGTON - The number of immigrant children caught alone illegally crossing the Mexican border into the United States continued to decline in August, according to figures disclosed Wednesday by the Homeland Security Department.
Last month Border Patrol agents apprehended 3,129 children, mostly from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. In July agents found more than 5,400 children, while in June the number was more than 10,600.
The Obama administration has been cautious about speculating over what led to the recent decline, saying several factors are likely at play. Historically, the number of immigrants caught crossing the border illegally declines during the hottest summer months.
Since the start of the budget year in October, more than 66,000 unaccompanied children have apprehended crossing the border illegally, nearly double the number from the 2013 budget year.
The dramatic increase in the number of child immigrants this year prompted the administration to step up enforcement efforts against human smuggling rings and launch a public relations campaign urging parents in Central America not to send their children on the dangerous trek through Mexico. The Justice Department has also ordered that newly arrived child immigrants facing deportation hearings should have their cases moved to the top of the federal immigration court's docket. The court has a backlog of more than 375,000 pending cases.
Officials in Mexico last month starting pulling Central Americans off the top of a lumbering freight train known as "La Bestia," or The Beast, which has routinely carried thousands of migrants north toward the U.S. border.
The crush of Central American children found crossing the border caught the administration off guard earlier this year and strained Homeland Security's resources. President Barack Obama called the situation a humanitarian crisis and asked Congress to approve an emergency $3.7 billion spending bill to deal with the issue. Congress left Washington for the August recess before the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-led Senate could agree on a spending package.