While Obama suggested the downward trend has continued this month, it’s too soon to say whether it will continue. One reason why is that it remains unclear exactly what’s behind the decrease. The administration, relatively quietly, took partial credit for the drop earlier this month, but two of the actions they touted—a crackdown on the criminal smuggling rings operating in Central America and “productive discussions” with the presidents of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador—happened toward the end of July, casting doubt on how much credit they deserve.
Complicating matters further is that, in a larger sense, it’s not even clear whether the decrease in children coming to the border is a good thing. There’s nothing to suggest that the root problems that drove many of the children from their homes in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala have been solved. All three nations have been ravaged by gang violence and remain among the most dangerous countries in the world. Boys who remain often have to decide between how they want to die: either at the hands of a gang they refuse to join, or at the hands of one of its rivals or the police if they do. Girls are often spared that choice, but too often nothing else. As one child who fled to the United States explained to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees: “In El Salvador they take young girls, rape them, and throw them in plastic bags.”
Obama has touted a strategy of “aggressive deterrence,” one centered around the idea that if Central American parents know for certain that their children will be sent home almost as soon as they arrive, they’ll decide against sending them in the first place. Many immigration and child-rights advocates, though, believe Central American kids can make a legitimate legal claim to asylum if they reach U.S. soil. It’s difficult to feel good about cutting down migration, then, by telling the kids and their parents that they likely won’t receive asylum when it’s possible that’s just not true.